Critical Evaluation Of Community Policing Application To Counterterrorism And Counter-Radicalisation


In this essay I will be critically examining what community-based approach is and what its application as a counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation strategy is. I will also look at the approach and its use after the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States and the 7/7 attack in the United Kingdom. I will start this essay of by looking at what community-based approach is and the rise of community-based approach after the London terrorist attacks, the essay will then look at more traditional counter-terrorism strategies used and look at the advantages to community-based approach is compared to the more traditional strategies. I will then move on to discussing the effectiveness community-based approach has and how it may or may not be impacted by the different forms of community-based engagement.

Community policing is an effort that dates back to policing reforms in the 1970’s, so us a principle community policing is not something that’s regarded as a new principle, on the other hand the use of community policing as a counterterrorism strategy is something that is regarded as a new strategy. Local communities were seen as “an important resource” for the police when it came to getting a grip on “social problems such as crime, anti-social behaviour or unemployment” (Spalek & Lambert, 2008, p. 258), this was before the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks that occurred in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11th 2001 in the United States, focus was turned to “International threats” by the UK government and the policies and tactics that were implemented by the UK reflected this outward look of looking at “International threats” (Briggs, et al., 2006, p. 12), rather than looking closer to home. The tactics and policies of focusing on International threats quickly changed when on July 7th, 2005 a terrorist attack occurred in London, the London terrorist attack was executed by British Muslims and citizens. This prompted the UK government not only took look at International threats but to also look at threats from within our own home soil as the attacks were carried out by British citizens from “respectable families” this showed the UK government that because these communities felt detached from the state they consequently had links to radicalisation which was unknown to the government. These communities that felt detached from the state did not report any information they had on the attacks to the authorities because they supported those who carried out the attacks as they were isolated from the state. After the London attacks as previously mentioned the focus changed from solely looking at International threat to also looking at threats from home and this brought about a focus on the idea of “community can defeat terrorism” and also placed a focus on working within local communities which now held a “particular significance” (Spalek &Lambert, 2008, p. 258). Focusing on working specifically with British Muslim communities was important for the UK government as they viewed these communities as key actors in their fight to tackle extremist views and to implement pre-emptive tactics once a member of their community has these extremist views community member will notify the relevant authorities. Community based approach is a philosophy and tactic that allows police and communities to work in conjunction with each other and build a relationship between the two in order to create a trusting environment which allows people from these communities to come forward with information instead of keeping it to themselves. As an approach to counterterrorism the strategy of community-based engagement is a strategy that is part of the counterterrorism strategy launched by the UK government in 2003 called CONTEST. As a strategy to counterterrorism CONTEST is a strategy that has four parts to it these four parts are: Pursuit, Preparedness, Protection and Prevention or the 4 P’s. Out of the four parts of CONTEST when it comes to community based engagement and working with communities which are seen as key actors in stopping the spread of extremist views such as the Muslim communities Prevent is the main strand from CONTEST that looks closely and focuses on these.

Traditional approaches to counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation are ‘hard’ strategies this is because the strategies that are implemented by theses more ‘traditional’ strategies involve “surveillance, policing and the implementation of anti-terror laws”. These ‘traditional’ strategies have a very negative impact of the Muslim community as it makes them feel further separated from the state due to these strategies which causes community members to have anger and hostility towards law enforcement officers and turns them to having extremist views against the west and supporting these terrorist groups, this is mainly because the implementation of these ‘traditional’ strategies are “frightening” on the other hand we can view community-based approach as a ‘soft’ approach to counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation as it creates a more engaging environment with communities and allows community members to work with the authorities as they don’t feel so alienated because they have that trust for the authorities which will allow the authorities to prevent the spread of terrorism because they will be getting information from community members. By creating a good environment and a good relationship between the police and the community it gives the police the legitimacy that they need and the cooperation needed by the police from the community so that they can effectively do the job that they set out to do. The uses of new technology and sticking to traditional approaches of counter-terrorism has not effectively worked for authorities as it hasn’t allowed them to obtain information that they need to help them fight terrorism and with the “morphing, fluid, and decentred” organisations like Al-Qaida the traditional methods are all but useless. With the use of traditional methods we are able to gather intelligence on people that are already known to us but where the traditional method lacks is gathering intelligence or detect threats that are posed by new groups that are not known to us as these terror cells are unconnected. In order to gain intelligence on new people the help of a community is needed as terrorist and people who have extremist vies are in some way integrated within a community. With the help of community members authorities can be alerted to people who have extremist views as only members from within their community will be able to notice when something is not right about a member of their community and will be able to notice if they are acting or behaving in a suspicious manner. By working closely with the community it means that the community become something like an “early warning system” (Briggs, 2010, pp. 972-973) for the authorities and it will allow the community to become a “source of information and intelligence” (Briggs, et al., 2006, p. 15) when it comes to stopping extremist in their community. The police receive intelligence from many other agencies some of the intelligence that they receive are not valid and this waste the time and the resources of the police when looking into these intelligence, this is where the community become helpful as they will be able to help with “assessing the validity” of the intelligence that the police receive allowing the police to effectively determine what is and what is not a genuine threat. Approaches like community engagement which is a ‘soft’ approach will slowly allow community members to change their mind towards engaging with ‘hard’ approaches of counter-terrorism.

The ‘hard’ strategies that are used by many countries are “increasingly intrusive counterterrorism” strategies these strategies are what makes community-based strategies a good alternative to ‘hard’ strategies as they offer something different. Community-based engagement has many different approaches however not all these are useful or helpful like the comparison with ‘hard’ strategies. Community engagement as a counter-terrorism strategy is something that could be considered “a highly politicised arena” (Spalek & Lambert, 2008, p. 261) this is because even though community-based engagement is a strategy that looks to engage the community it can also be seen as a strategy that targets the Muslim community which could lead to further alienation and worsening of the community instead of creating the trust within the community. The UK governments counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST and one of its strands Prevent is a perfect example on how the focus of combating terrorism was placed “on the British Muslim population” (O'Toole, et al., 2012, p. 56). The strand targeted the British Muslim community and went after people that were not involved in any terrorist activity which put the work that had been done on cooperating under jeopardy.

The prevent strand in the UK counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST hinted that members in Muslim communities should keep an eye out for each other and in a way spy on each other and report things that they think is suspicious to the police, however this was something that didn’t go down well with the Muslim community as it greatly upset the community. The CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy was looked at and reviewed in 2010 this review made some changes to the prevent strand, the updated prevent strand had “a number of significant continuities” (O'Toole, et al., 2012, p. 56). However the prevent strand still remains a very problematic strand as the new CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy the prevent strand states, that money that is given to organisations will not be given to them if they do not subscribe to what they see as “mainstream British values” or that “hold extremist views”, this on the other hand will exclude certain groups such as the Muslim community as they haven’t really considered the complexity of the Muslim community. Community-based approaches have more general problems than what has been discussed these are also problems that have been previously occurred and affected the prevent strategy and these however are problems that are out of the control of the police and members of the communities. The problems that are faced make it hard to implement approaches and it shows us that the people who are involved face many challenges that make it hard to overcome.

The UK has implemented some methods such as “stop and search, control orders and pre-charged detention” (Mcdonald, 2011, p. 178), these methods have however impacted the Muslim community in a very negative way. When we closely look at the strands in the counter-terrorism strategy we can see that all 4 strands don’t really work well together, the purse strand focuses very closely on ‘hard’ tactics however these tactics create an increase in distrust in the state which ultimately had a major affect on community-based engagement under the prevent strand. When it comes to how the Muslim community feels they feel as though they have been “unfairly targeted and treated as a ‘suspect’ community”, this has then led to them having reduced trust in the police and the state because off how they have been treated. Cooperation with the Muslim community has been very much affected because many British Muslim view that there is a bigger war going on with Islam however it has been known that the engagement and the debate of engagement with the Muslim community has “become extremely public and politicised” because of this efforts of building a long trusting relationship with the Muslim community has been affected. In the media the Muslim community has been presented in a very negative light especially British male Muslims as they are the most likely to become extremist, so the media have become very “hostile”. The public opinion on engagement with the Muslim community has not been the best as some of the public believe that engagement with Muslim communities is the state helping the agenda of Muslims by furthering “Islamic extremist” (Spalek & Lambert, 2008, p. 202). No matter what is done to battle terrorism and radicalisation we won’t be able to provide society with the security that they need. Community-based approaches is a good method of counter-terrorism and Counter-radicalisation but as an approach it also has its risk just like all the other approaches. Just like other approaches community engagement will have its “failures and success” and like some approaches not all the work that the approach wants to achieve will be achieved.


To tie everything up community-based approaches to battling counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation are hard to implement along with other ‘soft’ approaches because there are many things that affect the success of the approach. However, it is important that we try our best to implement this approach because it helps tackle terrorism and radicalisation from the root up and it creates a long-lasting solution instead of attempting to tackle the terrorism and radicalisation issues once its too late. Counter-terrorism strategies like community-based approach also helps by building a relationship and trust between communities and the police helping to build up a relationship that has been broken for many years, the trust and relationship that will be built from community-based approach could potentially help build the trust between the state and communities on a more national scale. Even if this approach is implemented it will not work if it doesn’t aim to work with communities that they want to target otherwise there will be no improvement made in the battle of tackling counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation.


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09 March 2021
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