Proactive Policing and Terrorism
Summary and Keywords
Over the last few decades, one of the most pressing issues for governments, societies, and the law enforcement agencies that serve and protect them has been the threat of terrorism. Given that these changes represent a relatively new area for police, it is important to understand how terrorism is best policed and what approaches, strategies, and tactics are most effective. While the evidence base is still in its developmental stages, the evidence that does exist suggests that proactive policing strategies already employed against other forms of crime are the most useful and effective for policing terrorism. Policing efforts that focus on high concentrations of crimes at places (“hotspots”), or among the high-risk offenders, and employ problem-solving perspectives and use community-based strategies show consistent evidence of effectiveness and improving relations between the police and the public. Based on this evidence, policing agencies that undertake proven, proactive strategies toward policing terrorism are better able to incorporate their new role and focus within their broader law enforcement functions. By doing so, policing agencies can expand their role and function in a way that draws on their experience and strengths, rather than “reinventing the wheel” and overstretching resources. Additionally, policing agencies from different countries can draw on their own experience and local knowledge in dealing with other forms of crime, as well as the experience of other agencies and countries, in order to develop a comprehensive and multidimensional approach to policing terrorism.
Nearly two decades after the attacks of 9/11, the policing of terrorism has become a key priority for Western countries. While great resources have been devoted to the policing of terrorism, little is known about which strategies are most effective (Lum, Haberfeld, Fachner, & Lieberman, 2009). With only a small percentage of research being empirical (Lum, Kennedy, & Sherley, 2006; Wolfowicz, Litmanovitz, Weisburd, & Hasisi, 2019), policies and strategies are often not evidence-based (Neumann & Kleinmann, 2013). What evidence does exist suggests that military-oriented tactics are among the least effective, and may even lead to a backlash effect, whereby they contribute to or provide a source of grievances that encourage terrorism (e.g., perceived discrimination) (Dugan, LaFree, & Piquero, 2005; Feridun & Shabaz, 2010; LaFree, Dugan, & Korte, 2009; Landes, 1978; Lum et al., 2006; Rosendorff & Sandler, 2004). On the other hand, proactive policing strategies that have been found to be successful in tackling ordinary crime may be effective in the policing of terrorism (Bayley & Weisburd, 2009; Gil-Alana & Barros, 2010; LaFree, 2012; Perry, Weisburd, & Hasisi, 2017b).
There is likely a good reason as to why this may be the case, with much of the literature suggesting that while important differences exist, there is much in common between terrorism and ordinary crime. For example, spatial patterns of terrorism are highly similar to those of crime, with events concentrating in a small number of places (Hasisi, Perry, Ilan, & Wolfowicz, 2019b; Perry, 2019). Important overlaps have also been found in patterns of offending-related behaviors, such as recidivism (Carmel, Wolfowicz, Hasisi, & Weisburd, 2020; Hasisi, Carmel, Weisburd, & Wolfowicz, 2019a). Similarly, in terms of characteristics, terrorism and criminal offenders have been found to respond to situational prevention and deterrent measures in ways similar to criminals (Perry et al., 2017b). Furthermore, significant overlap also exists in terms of the demographics of offenders—namely, young males—and the types of criminogenic and criminotrophic factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of offending (Lösel, King, Bender, & Jugl, 2018; Wolfowicz et al., 2019). Such overlaps support the idea that policing strategies used for ordinary crime hold promise for the policing of terrorism (Freese, 2014; LaFree & Bersani, 2014; Lum & Koper, 2011; Pelfrey, 2014). As Crelinsten (1989, p. 254) writes:
there is a close similarity between security intelligence operations and what is known as “proactive policing,” that is, police activity designed to prevent or to frustrate criminal activity before it happens. This resemblance highlights the similarity between investigating covert clandestine activities of a subversive nature and those of a purely criminal nature, such as drug traffic or organized crime. In fact, from an operational point of view, terrorism and organized crime require similar investigative techniques, due to their clandestine nature.1
When it comes to the policing of terrorism, different countries tend to rely on certain strategies over others, generally a reflection of the unique context, history, and social and political culture of each country, its experience with terrorism, and the nature of the current terrorism threat faced by that country (Perry, 2014). Detailing the similarities and differences between every country would be a nearly impossible task and is beyond the scope of this article. Rather, in this article, we followed the structure of a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences on proactive policing (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019), and we sought to highlight the use of proactive policing strategies in the policing of terrorism in Western countries—namely, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel—that figure most prominently in the literature. These countries provide important examples of the use of proactive policing strategies against terrorism and serve to demonstrate how these strategies are implemented and to what degree they have been effective.
What Does Criminology Tell Us about Which Policing Strategies Work Best?
Traditionally, policing was viewed as primarily reactive in nature. That is, it was the police’s role to investigate crimes after they had been committed, and to arrest perpetrators. The primary activities of the police were therefore responses to calls for service. This standard policing model suffered from a significant problem, however, namely, that it had a limited impact on reducing crime (Weisburd & Braga, 2006). Starting in the 1960s, researchers, policymakers, and police organizations began to embark on a move toward more proactive strategies that sought to improve crime control and to prevent and reduce crime. Similar developments occurred and were observed with regard to the policing of terrorism. Prior to 9/11, the role of local law enforcement in the United States was primarily as “first responders,” whose job it was to respond to calls, secure crime scenes, collect evidence, and coordinate other emergency services. Since the attacks, local police have increasingly become “first preventers” and taken a more proactive approach to identifying and preventing terrorism threats before they occur. This shift is not merely symbolic but represents a keen awareness that local law enforcement’s knowledge of their own communities places them in the best position to prevent and deter attacks (Connors & Pellegrini, 2005; Perliger, Hasisi, & Pedahzur, 2009).
A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States provides a comprehensive overview of the state of the evidence for proactive policing, namely, place-based strategies, problem-solving strategies, person-focused strategies, and community-based strategies (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). The first three of these strategies are primarily concerned with crime prevention and reduction. In the context of terrorism, as with ordinary crime, they include a combination of both defensive (such as target hardening) and offensive (such as surveillance of known high-risk offenders) approaches (Hasisi, Alpert, & Flynn, 2009; Perry et al., 2017b). While less so for defensive tactics, the use of these strategies entails a level of acceptance to some degree of negative impact on community relations, especially minority groups (Hasisi & Weitzer, 2007). This is where community-based strategies may fill the gap as they seek to correct, repair, and maintain these relations. In fact, the first three strategies rely heavily on positive community relations and increase their effectiveness (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019).
As detailed in the report, a well-rounded strategy is one that implements a wide range of evidence-based practices integratively (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). Similarly, in the policing of terrorism, a well-rounded strategy ought to employ a combination of the most proven proactive policing strategies, including but not limited to community policing, intelligence-led policing (problem-oriented), and situational terrorism prevention (place-based). By adopting elements from each of these domains, policing organizations can address physical security, heighten intelligence effectiveness, and improve trust and legitimacy, increasing the likelihood for community cooperation (Friedmann & Cannon, 2007; Perry et al., 2017b; Stein & Levi, 2014; Tankebe, 2020). Indeed, a number of studies highlight that a large proportion of foiled terrorism plots are the result of traditional, proactive policing strategies (Dahl, 2011; Difo, 2010; Strom, Hollywood, & Pope, 2016), and that such strategies have been instrumental in causing terrorist groups to cease to operate or exist (Jones & Libicki, 2008).
Just as the proactive policing model stands opposite the traditional reactive model, problem-solving policing approaches stand opposite traditional incident-driven policing approaches. Instead of police responding to individual incidents and seeking to control them after they have occurred, problem-solving approaches seek primarily to prevent the incidents. They seek to deal with recurrent crimes, which may be characterized by a particular trend in terms of the type of crime, where it occurs, the types of offenders carrying them out, or a certain set of underlying problems that are giving rise to the particular trend. For police to be able to effectively deal with recurrent crimes, it is necessary to first identify the underlying “risk factors” (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). As such, problem-oriented-policing (POP) takes a more methodological approach to the identification and diagnosis of specific problems and the factors that underlie a pattern of incidents. After identifying the causes of these problems, police can develop tailored solutions to address the core issues, and by doing so ideally prevent the recurrence of a particular crime (Eck & Spelman, 1987; Goldstein, 1990). For example, property and violent crime may be inherently linked to ongoing drug crime. Thus, by tackling drug crime, it may be possible to reduce these other types of crime (e.g., Weisburd & Green, 1995).
Depending on the unique characteristics of a given problem or set of problems, the strategies developed for dealing with them can vary greatly. Indeed, POP interventions draw on a variety of tactics and practices, from arrests to modifications to the physical environment and engagement with local communities. As such, POP strategies may take on more person-focused, place-focused, or community-focused approaches, and the different ways in which elements from these strategies are combined will depend on the given problem (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). For example, predictive policing, an essentially intelligence-based strategy, may implement geographic information systems (GIS) to deal with place-based hotspot policing (Weisburd, Telep, Hinkle, & Eck, 2010).
In POP, police may identify problems in the areas in which they are already engaged in policing. They then research these problems in depth to develop possible solutions. POP is problem-centered, and it depends only on the type of problem and the possible solutions selected whether police may or may not have much discretion, contact with citizens, or engagement with other agencies (Greene, 2000; Oliver, 2006). Furthermore, rigorous evaluations have shown that even limited applications of generate statistically significant short-term crime prevention impact (Weisburd et al., 2010).
One of the tenets of POP is that agencies should look to the successes of other agencies (in responding to problems) and try to integrate elements of their successful programs into their own. By doing so, agencies can build on existing evidence and experience and can avoid engaging in “experimentation” with new solutions each time. By drawing on solutions that have been successfully implemented elsewhere and in similar situations, a POP approach is especially useful for developing strategies for the policing of terrorism (Eck, 2002; Pelfrey, 2005a, 2005b). An analysis of terror attacks might be focused on specific areas, among specific people, or within specific times and places (e.g., special events). For example, in Israel, police identified certain “hotspots” where terrorism attacks were occurring in Jerusalem and the West Bank and deployed additional forces, leading to a reduction in the number of events (Perry, 2019). Additionally, in identifying that vehicular attacks were targeting bus stops, Israel erected barriers, which were found to reduce the number of terrorism events. Several European countries have drawn on the Israeli experience and erected barriers to prevent vehicular attacks, which have been identified as being on the rise (Hasisi, Perry, & Wolfowicz, 2019).
While POP does not necessarily need the help of the community, it is with such cooperation that it is most effective (McGarrell, Freilich, & Chermak, 2007; Oliver, 2006; Ratcliffe, 2008). Positive community relations increase the chances for the successful identification of underlying problems as well as the development of strategies that seek to mitigate or eliminate them, since communities and community members may understand them best (Greene & Herzog, 2009). But another aspect of this is the way in which POP can identify potential sources of intelligence, and intelligence-led policing is a natural extension of POP (McGarrell et al., 2007).
Traditionally, police used intelligence-led strategies, such as surveillance, wiretaps, and informants, on a case-by-case basis for evidence-gathering purposes. However, as proactive policing orientations have become increasingly adopted, intelligence-led methods, analysis, and risk assessment have become part and parcel of the regular “police business” model (Ratcliffe, 2008). In addition to the traditional methods noted above, tactics in the intelligence-led policing (ILP) toolbox include but are not limited to predictive policing, intelligence analysis, risk assessment, surveillance, sting operations, and undercover agents. With such tactics being best applied to the targeting of a small number of key individuals, activities, and places, ILP can be seen as an extension of problem-oriented policing (Ratcliffe, 2008, p. 29), which may also draw on community policing, focused deterrence, and place-based policing strategies. Such strategies have been found to be highly effective in crime prevention and reduction (Maguire, 2000), and also in the context of policing of terrorism (McGarrell, Freilich, & Chermak, 2007).
ILP strategies are intended to be truly proactive in the sense that police should be in step with, or one step ahead of, their targets. In order to identify potential terrorists and foil attacks, reliable information about specific individuals, intentions, and capabilities is needed (Perry, 2014; Perry et al., 2017a; Weisburd et al., 2009). While different countries tend toward certain tactics over others the goal is always to deter, disrupt, and prevent terrorist activities by delivering physical, psychological, or economic harm and directly damaging operational capabilities (Bayley & Weisburd, 2009; Brodeur & Dupeyron, 1993; McGarrell et al., 2007; Perry et al., 2017a). In addition to prevention, such efforts also seek to increase deterrence, with the successful thwarting of attacks, arrests, and subsequent prosecutions, displaying the police’s prowess and increasing perceived risks (Hasisi et al., 2009; Perry, 2014; Weisburd et al., 2009).
ILP tactics can be categorized as being signals-intelligence (SIGINT), human-generated intelligence (HUMINT), or surveillance-based (Perry, 2014; Perry et al., 2017a). However, societal and technological changes have opened up new avenues beyond the traditional “high policing” strategies (Bayley & Weisburd, 2009; Brodeur & Dupeyron, 1993). For example, almost all intelligence agencies now gather open-sourced intelligence (OSINT), which is usually Internet-focused, and more recently social media-based intelligence (SOCMINT). In many ways, this represents a new branch of intelligence gathering and analysis (Omand, Bartlett, & Miller, 2012; Omand, Miller, & Bartlett, 2014), and may include the use of different predictive policing applications (Pelzer, 2018).
Applications of SIGINT in the policing of terrorism generally refer to the tracking and interception of communications of key individuals identified by intelligence. Such practices have prevented numerous terror attacks around the world, including Al-Qaeda plots against international airliners (Byman, 2014). Interceptions may provide an initial opening or indicator which policing agencies then follow up on using a wider variety of means. In 2009, for example, Australian authorities arrested a cell that was planning to attack the Holsworthy Army Base located near Sydney. Initially, the intelligence services had been investigating overseas material support for the Somalian-based al-Shabaab terror group. The ensuing investigation included telephone interceptions which revealed the existence of the Australian-based cell which was engaged in more than just material support and the supply of foreign fighters. The interceptions led to a police investigation, including extensive surveillance, and the eventual arrests of the members of the cell (Zammit, 2012, 2013).
The successful implementation of SIGINT relies heavily on intelligence sharing, and countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and Israel are engaged in such high-level sharing, and have shared in the expenses of setting up SIGINT infrastructure (Rudner, 2004). Additionally, to facilitate effective sharing, such countries have established liaison offices. While liaison offices have traditionally been run by state agencies, there have been some notable changes over the years. For example, the London Metropolitan Police had as many as 16 liaison offices across Europe and elsewhere during its fight against the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks. Since 9/11, the New York Police Department has mimicked this approach, establishing liaison offices in over a dozen countries (Dahl, 2014; Nussbaum, 2007, 2012). In recent years, European Union (EU) agencies and member states have combined new technological solutions to capitalize on intelligence sharing, such as automated license plate readers and facial and voice recognition tools. These tools work with local and shared databases to send alerts to local police who can follow up with surveillance. But different local laws may impede the use of such technologies, meaning that usage is not equal among all partners (Jansen, 2018).
The use of informants and undercover agents is a key proactive strategy that has been leveraged in the prevention of multiple terrorist attacks (Crelinsten, 1989; Klein, Gruenewald, Chermak, & Freilich, 2019). Of all Western countries, the United States stands out for its use of such tactics, with the majority of foiled attacks being the result of HUMINT-based proactive policing (Dahl, 2011; Klein et al., 2019). The use of informants together with other problem-solving methods underpinned operation backfire, which aimed to stop, deter, and prevent attacks carried out by individuals and groups linked to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF). While new legislation directed against the groups had no deterrent effect (Carson, 2014), widespread arrests did, and rather than displacing eco-terrorism, they also led to a reduction in other nonviolent activities, including in neighboring districts (Safer-Lichtenstein, 2019; Yang & Jen, 2018).
ILP and POP strategies have been a key element of Australia’s success in preventing terrorism. The majority of Australia’s terrorism convictions stem from a small number of intelligence-led operations that relied on the extensive use of surveillance and undercover agents. For example, Operation Pendennis began in 2004 when an undercover agent was planted in an active terror cell, leading to the arrests of cell members in both Melbourne and Sydney (Schuurman, Harris-Horgan, Zammit, & Lentini, 2014). Importantly, a month prior to the arrests the cells called off the planned attacks and attempted to clean up evidence, apparently feeling they were being watched (Schuurman et al., 2014).
OSINT and SOCINT
In more recent years, a number of attacks have been prevented through intelligence collected over the Internet, which can provide an important window of opportunity for prevention efforts (Benson, 2014). Online surveillance and analysis of data have become key components of ILP strategies in the fight against terrorism. In places such as the United States and Israel, the monitoring and analysis of online activities have led to the foiling of potentially hundreds of terror attacks (Hasisi et al., 2019b). Despite the popularity of predictive policing for countering terrorism, it has been argued that even the most advanced systems do not conform to proactive policing practices. Automated tools are unable to distinguish between the many nonviolent radicals and the few violent radicals, in part due to a lack of empiricism underpinning such tools (Pulzer, 2018). Even the most accurate systems would generate tens of thousands of false positives for every terrorist (Munk, 2017). While predictive policing tools remain a key area for research and development, they are still best used to support human decisions for other intelligence resources, such as undercover agents, surveillance, or focused deterrence strategies (Hasisi et al., 2019b).
The differences in the apparent preference for one set of strategies over others in different countries are perhaps in part a reflection of different historical and cultural contexts. While U.S. intelligence services have a deep reach in American society, in places such as Belgium, where a small number of highly insular societies have produced a large number of terrorists, it can be quite difficult to develop an effective HUMINT capability. Highly insular communities disconnected from the state have notorious difficulty with procuring HUMINT (Hasisi, 2008; Lasoen, 2018). Nevertheless, in Israel, police agencies have built effective HUMINT capabilities in what can be described as a hostile environment by capitalizing on local societal structures and combining intelligence-led efforts with community policing tactics and focused deterrence strategies, demonstrating how proactive policing efforts should seek out the best combination of strategies in a given context and for a given problem (Perliger, Hasisi, & Pedahzur, 2009).
When a specific type of crime occurs in a specific area, police may be able to draw on prior knowledge and data to identify the most likely culprits. Person-focused strategies (PFS) include focused deterrence (also known as “pulling levers”), repeat offender programs, and stop-question-frisk activities. Evidence from the policing of gang violence, disorderly drug markets, and repeat offenders suggests that these strategies are most effective when implemented together with problem-oriented approaches (Braga, Weisburd, & Turchan, 2018). Compared with other strategies, PFS have been found to have little or no negative impact on the wider population vis-à-vis legitimacy, trust, and procedural justice (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). In fact, the spillover effect of focused deterrence appears to go in the opposite direction, where even non-targeted offenders and groups are affected (Braga, Apel, & Welsh, 2013). Such findings have encouraged the implementation of PFS across the United States and in other parts of the world (National Network for Safe Communities, 2013).
PFS are inherently in line with some key findings from the terrorism literature. First, only a very small number of individuals who express extremist attitudes and beliefs will ever engage in radical violence or terrorism, and it is imperative to focus prevention efforts on the small pool of high-risk individuals (McCauley & Moskalenko, 2017). Strategies directed at communities and larger populations not only negatively affect legitimacy but may actually contribute to radicalization, and thereby terrorism (Tankebe, 2020). Person-focused strategies, especially when directed by intelligence, have the potential to mitigate these issues and effectively help the police, which usually have limited resources to enable wider coverage, to prevent new offenses from occurring. Additionally, recent evidence suggests that terrorism offenders may be just as likely to recidivate as ordinary criminals (Altier, Boyle, & Horgan, 2019; Hasisi et al., 2019a, 2019b). PFS are often directed against repeat offenders or offenders at risk of re-offending.
Focused Deterrence and a Focus on Repeat Offenders
Focused deterrence strategies (FDS) are PFS which attempt to increase risks faced by offenders through the development of creative ways of deploying traditional and nontraditional law enforcement tools. In addition to increasing the swiftness and certainty of sanctions, these strategies explicitly communicate incentives, risk, and consequences to deter offenders from offending behaviors. Compared to other strategies, the existing evidence suggests that FDS have a considerably moderate effect on actual crime reduction (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019).
FDS are commonly implemented as part of POP strategies (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). They start by selecting a specific crime problem and developing an interagency enforcement group to deliver its tailored enforcement strategy (“pulling levers”), with parallel efforts (“carrots and sticks”) used by the police, social services, community groups, and others to target potential perpetrators of the targeted behavior. This approach seeks to inform potential offenders that they are under scrutiny and have a high probability of apprehension but at the same time are being offered a “way out” (Braga & Weisburd, 2012).
However, it may be difficult to assess how effective PFS such as these would be in the case of policing terrorism, since it is such a rare-event crime. While it is true that many terrorists will reengage in terrorism offending after they are released from prison, the majority of terrorists have not been previously incarcerated for such offenses. Nevertheless, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that both focused deterrence and efforts similar to repeat offender programs may be effective strategies to reduce and prevent terrorism (Altier et al., 2019; Hasisi et al., 2019a). As pointed out by Marsden (2015), de-radicalization interventions are less likely to lead to desistance than other factors, such as the fear of re-incarceration itself, or the realization of the detrimental effects on family members. Some of the restrictive conditions released offenders are subject to, such as surveillance, may have a deterrent effect, and demonstrating good behavior may be the only recourse to being relieved of these conditions. In both cases, the deterrent effects post-release FDS are likely to carry more weight than de-radicalization.
In Israel, authorities have successfully leveraged social media to prevent hundreds of attacks. One unique feature of the Israeli approach is that it combines focused deterrence with intelligence generated from social media, including predictive policing tools such as content analysis algorithms. Once a potential threat has been identified, focused deterrence is carried out through the use of phone calls and home visits to potential threats and their family members who are warned that they are under surveillance and of the potential repercussions. In Israel, possible consequences of terrorism involvement may extend to family, including revocation of work permits and home demolitions. In some cases, these terrorists may be charged with crimes such as incitement to violence or intention to commit a terrorism offense (Hasisi et al., 2019b; Perliger, Hasisi, & Pedhazur, 2009). Such an approach seeks to limit the need to carry out widespread surveillance, and in addition to prevention, it seeks to create a wider deterrent effect (Hasisi et al., 2019b).
The stop-question-frisk (SQF) strategy, used for some time by street-level police officers, is arguably one of the most controversial strategies (Patton et al., 2017). While findings on SQF’s effectiveness have been quite mixed, some suggest reductions in crime of up to 5% (McCandless, Feist, Allan, & Morgan, 2016; Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014). But SQF can be implemented as a person-oriented strategy, in conjunction with hotspot policing, or as both. When combined with other strategies, it is believed that the effectiveness of SQF can be increased and the potential for negative effects on the wider community mitigated (Tiratelli, Quinton, & Bradford, 2018; Weisburd et al., 2016). As a primarily person-oriented strategy, however, the goal of SQF is not only to reduce crime but also to send a message of deterrence to wider populations (Choongh, 1998).
In the United Kingdom, increased use of SQF was explicitly tied to expanded powers granted to police under the PREVENT counterterrorism strategy. Unlike SQF to combat knife crime, SQF for terrorism-related crimes do not require a level of reasonable suspicion (McCandless et al., 2016). This has led to some criticism of the practice, similar to concerns expressed regarding its general use (Allen, 2017). While much of the focus on SQF in the United Kingdom has been on its use in suspect Muslim communities, it has also been used extensively in Northern Ireland, with 30% of SQF targeting terrorism or political dissident groups and their members. In 2016–2017, SQF stops relating to terrorism reached 4/1000 of the population (Topping & Bradford, 2020). But a large proportion of these stops are not random; rather, they are based on existing intelligence, combining the problem-solving and person-focused strategies. In some cases, they are also focused on specific “hotspots” where dissidents are known to congregate (Seymour, 2017; Topping & Bradford, 2020; Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019).
Israel introduced a new bill in 2016 granting police stop-and-frisk powers. The implementation of the new policy came on the heels of a nearly two-year-long wave of lone-actor terrorism. As in other contexts, there were those who certainly criticized the new policy (Baker, 2016). While no hard statistics are available, since the introduction of the bill, there have been almost weekly reports of would-be terrorists being stopped and searched and found to be carrying weapons with the intent of carrying out an attack (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2019). Generally speaking, these stops are carried out as either routine or random stops at access points and checkpoints. The examples from both the United Kingdom and Israel show that when combined with hotspot policing, SQFs can be more effective while mitigating potential negative outcomes (Weisburd, 2016).
Perhaps the most obvious case of SQF is at airports and border checkpoints. Evidence from Israel demonstrates that it is possible to improve legitimacy for subjects of random inspections by providing procedural justice. Like other countries, Israel’s approach focused on profiling, which included ethnic profiling (Arabs). However, unlike other countries, it placed a greater focus on suspicious behavioral patterns, which were given a higher priority over individual profiles (Seymour, 2005). While the profiling method was proven to be highly effective, it was found to have costs to human rights. Passengers who felt they had been profiled reported that it had a negative impact on their sense of legitimacy. Israel has therefore sought ways to mitigate this harm while maintaining the effectiveness of its screening policies and procedures (Hasisi, Perry, & Wolfowicz, 2019c).
The Israeli case of airport screening should be understood in the context of a general decline in police legitimacy in Israel (Jonathan & Weisburd, 2010; Perry & Jonathan-Zamir, 2014), which may be an important consideration for other democratic contexts. It is known that police legitimacy is connected to a willingness to cooperate with police, including with regard to counterterrorism (Madon, Murphy, & Cherney, 2016; Murphy, Cherney, & Teston, 2019; Tyler, Schulhofer, & Huq, 2010). Previous studies have identified that a high proportion of Israel’s Arab minority feels that the police have “criminalized” or “securitized” them (Hasisi & Weisburd, 2014; Hasisi & Weitzer, 2007). In spite of these feelings, a large proportion of the Israeli Arab minority continue to express a willingness to cooperate with counterterrorism policing, acknowledging the importance of the need to combat terrorism (Hasisi & Weisburd, 2014).
Prior studies examining Israeli airport security practices have found that most passengers have a generally favorable view of procedural justice in regard to the screening actions they underwent (Hasisi et al., 2012; Hasisi & Weisburd, 2011; Jonathan-Zamir et al., 2016a). Nevertheless, Israeli Arab passengers tend to go through more strict screening processes and express less favorable attitudes toward them (Hasisi et al., 2012; Hasisi & Weisburd, 2011). An analysis of Arab passengers’ complaints showed that public bag screening created significant harm (humiliation and anger). In order to mitigate such harm, Israel recently phased out its open-bag checks in the check-in hall, which were contributing negatively to such outcomes (Hasisi et al., 2012; Hasisi & Weisburd, 2011; Jonathan-Zamir, Hasisi, & Margalioth, 2016a; Risse & Zeckhauser, 2004). Starting in 2015, the automated “Hold Baggage Screening” (HBS) process was introduced to replace the check-in hall screening and avoid public screening of passengers. The policy was designed to replace the need for security agents to open passengers’ bags in public view by replacing it with a discreet, automated system. Recent evaluations have found that these changes improved perceptions of procedural justice and fairness among Israeli Arab passengers and led to a reduction in reports of humiliation (Hasisi et al., 2019c).
Given the rare nature of terrorism, it would be difficult to assess how SQFs reduce the number of terrorism events, as the variability in terrorism offenses is much greater than in crime. However, in addition to SQF, many attacks are prevented by other “chance encounters” with police, with dozens of examples from the United States alone (Dahl, 2011; Strom et al., 2011). But it would nevertheless appear that, similar to ordinary crime, SQF as a strategy for policing terrorism may be more effective when used as a proactive strategy combined with other place-based approaches. Especially in the context of policing of terrorism, overuse of SQF (not focused on high-risk individuals or places) could lead to feelings of discrimination and marginalization, which may offset marginal gains in prevention. These concerns are highly relevant for stigmatized communities, such as Muslims in places like the United States and the United Kingdom (Allen, 2017; Tankebe, 2020). However, as with the case of airport screening, when used in a focused way, it may be possible to reduce some of the negative effects.
Unlike person-focused methods which focus on individuals, place-based methods focus on places and elements within places, such as buildings and installations as well as other spatial features and their attributes. Place-based methods are like person-based methods in that they take a proactive approach to identifying the most high-risk sites for attention and intervention, and a problem-oriented approach to developing the most appropriate interventions. As such, strategies such as problem-oriented policing and intelligence gathering can often play an integral role in place-based methods. Place-based methods tend to focus on issues such as policing places where high-risk individuals congregate, where criminal activities occur, or where places and installations are vulnerable to criminal activities, such as terrorism. Within the category of place-based methods are several strategies used in the policing of terrorism, either strictly or in combination with other non-place-based methods, such as focused deterrence, or SQF. While place-based strategies include a wide range of tactics, they can effectively be categorized as belonging to either situational prevention or hot-spot policing methods. These two strategies are also complementary in that situational prevention may make use of place-focused policing, and hot-spot policing may make use of situational prevention tactics to effect changes to the conditions, situations, and dynamics that increase the riskiness of a particular place of type of place (Braga & Weisburd, 2010).
Of all strategies that can be used to prevent terrorism, situational prevention strategies may be the most promising, and the most evidence-based (Freilich, Gruenewald, & Mandala, 2019; Lum et al., 2006; Mandala & Freilich, 2018). Clarke and Newman (2006) state that although they may have different goals, terrorists are more similar to criminals than they are different. Importantly, of all the areas and characteristics in which terrorists are most similar to criminals is their rational choice-making, where a terrorist considers the possible chances of success or failure, together with potential costs and rewards (Perry & Hasisi, 2015).
Just as with ordinary crime, an offender must have both the motivation and the opportunity to offend (Clarke & Newman, 2006). Thus, a terrorist attack can be prevented by neutralizing motivations, inhibiting opportunities, or both (Perry, 2014; Perry, Apel, Newman, & Clarke, 2017a). However, we “must not rely on changing the heart and minds of terrorists. The motivation for terrorism results from long-term social, cultural and psychological pressures, which are difficult to alter.” (Clarke & Newman, 2006, p. 11). Thus, we are left with the alternative solution, reducing the opportunities for already motivated terrorists to offend.
Police can reduce opportunities for a terror attack by targeting one or more of the four “pillars of terrorism opportunity”: targets, weapons, tools, and facilitating conditions. An effective approach seeks to reduce capabilities and opportunities to procure or produce weapons and tools, to approach targets uninhibited, and to minimize the facilitating conditions needed to perform an attack. A proactive approach to situational prevention combines both defensive and reactive elements. The primary element of the defensive model includes the limiting of opportunities through “target hardening” (Clarke & Newman, 2006; Weisburd et al., 2009).
In their systematic review of counterterrorism policies, Lum et al. (2006) found that of all policies, only situational prevention policies, primarily at airports, had empirically demonstrable efficacy. But there is good evidence for the effectiveness of defensive approaches more generally. In a study comparing successful (n = 47) and unsuccessful (n = 41) right-wing attacks between 1980 and 2012, attacks on unsecured targets were found to be more likely to succeed (Klein, Gruenewald, & Smith, 2017). An analysis of 271 jihadist inspired attacks in the United States between 1990 and 2014 found that unsuccessful plots (n = 232) were more likely to have been directed at more secure targets (Gruenewald, Klein, Freilich, & Chermak, 2019). A recent study comparing successful and unsuccessful assassination attacks by terrorists found that having security personnel for the target was significantly associated with unsuccessful attacks (Mandala & Freilich, 2018).
Through the denial of opportunities, situational prevention also leads to deterrence. This is because the combination of offensive and defensive elements creates a hostile environment for would-be terrorists in which their chances of success are low and the risk of being caught is high (Stein & Levi, 2014). Following the events of 9/11, the United States engaged in widespread target hardening, and evidence suggests that a number of plots were abandoned due to increased security (Carafano, Bucci, & Zuckerman, 2012; Dahl, 2011). And while some have theorized that attacks prevented by increased security would diffuse to other countries, a statistical analysis by Hsu, Vasquez, and McDowall (2018) found no evidence of this.
The idea that rather than actually preventing and reducing the number of offenses offenders will simply “move around the corner” is a criticism consistently leveled against situational prevention strategies, and place-based strategies more generally (Rosenbaum, 2006). That is, the types of offenses that situational prevention seeks to prevent will be displaced to less well-protected areas and places. In the case of terrorism, however, another argument is made: terrorists whose opportunity to carry out a specific attack has been thwarted will simply turn to different means. While there is evidence that airport security did shift terrorists’ modus operandi (Enders & Sandler, 1993), Perry et al. (2017a) contend that displacement to other forms of attacks indicates the success of the situational prevention strategies. However, given that terrorism is constantly responding to counterterrorism, police must conduct vulnerability and risk assessments, based on intelligence, in order to identify those targets which would benefit from increases in situational prevention. These types of assessments lead to the creation of a list of priorities which enable a more informed allocation of resources to harden the more vulnerable potential targets (Davis et al., 2004). Beyond the implementation of target hardening, such assessments also inform the distribution of operational resources and responses to create a truly proactive approach against terrorism that combines POP, ILP, and STP (Connors & Pellegrini, 2005).
The literature on crime and place has found that a significant proportion of crime concentrates in a relatively small number of street segments. The repeated findings that crime tends to concentrate in a small number of places have now come to be defined as the “law of crime concentration” (Weisburd, 2015). While there are no standard numbers for what the bandwidth of the law of crime concentration is, on average, studies have found that about 50% of crime concentrates in about 5% of street segments (Weisburd & Amram, 2014). By identifying these chronic places where crime concentrates and increasing police presence in them, hotspot policing is able to reduce crime (Weisburd, 2016). Similar to criticisms against situational prevention, some scholars suggested that criminals would simply move around the corner (Rosenbaum, 2006). For the most part, studies have found either no evidence of displacement (e.g., Andresen & Lau, 2014; Collazos, García, Mejía, Ortega, & Tobón, 2019) or only very small levels of it (e.g., Andresen & Malleson, 2014; Andresen & Shen, 2019). In fact, rather than displacement, there appears to be a diffusion of benefits to areas adjacent to those given hotspot policing treatments (Weisburd et al., 2006).
Terrorism is generally too rare an event to identify hotspots at the local level. However, evidence from Israel, where there is a high frequency of attacks, indicates that terrorism concentrates at microgeographic locations and follows the laws of crime concentration. Perry (2019) found a high concentration of terror attacks in Jerusalem, with 25.3% of the attacks occurring in just 1.6% of possible street segments, and 43.4% in just 6.2% of possible street segments. Focusing on vehicular terror attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Hasisi et al. (2019b) found even greater concentrations of hotspots, with the majority of attacks occurring in a small number of places. A report published by the High Level Military Group (2016) cited Israel’s focus on “trouble spots” as contributing to its success in suppressing the “third intifada” (from 2014 to 2016). Taken together with low-level radical violence that included stone-throwing and the launching of Molotov cocktails, during the year 2016, approximately 50% of all attacks occurred in just six hotspots (High Level Military Group, 2016). According to the report, “Areas that were the source of relatively few terrorist attacks, remained virtually untouched by the Israeli Defense Forces’ response” (p. 14), highlighting the hotspot focus.
Studies of terror attacks in Turkey have found high levels of concentration, and certain key features of hotspots, suggesting that hotspot policing may be an effective way to prevent future attacks (Demirci & Suen, 2007; Onat, 2019). Using such information to conduct risk assessment is helpful in determining where police should be positioned, namely, at potential sites of terror attacks. Placing additional police at high-risk locations has been instrumental in preventing a number of attacks in different countries (Freilich, Gruenewald, & Mandala, 2019). For example, an attempted terrorist car-bombing at Times Square in New York City was averted when a citizen notified police on foot patrol of a suspicious vehicle (Sherwood, 2010). In 2018, police stationed in Amsterdam’s central train station had already been following a suspect when he began stabbing victims. Police shot him almost instantly, ending the attack (BBC, 2018). Attacks have also been prevented by local police patrols at high-risk locations in China (Karmon, 2014) and in Kenya, where intelligence-led positioning of police in specific areas has led to the prevention of a number of terror attacks, especially those carried out by al-Shabaab (Mogire, Mkutu, & Alusa, 2018).
While there are no studies on the effectiveness of hotspot policing on preventing terrorism specifically, Perry (2019) found that in Jerusalem, following the dispatching of more police to identified hotspots, attacks were approximately 50% less lethal. This indicates that many attacks were stopped in their tracks before they could lead to injury or death. Many news reports indicate that multiple attacks have been prevented by police stationed at hotspots around Jerusalem’s Old City in particular (e.g., this may provide evidence to support the effectiveness of hotspot policing in preventing terrorism and reducing its impact).
Zero-tolerance policing approaches to terrorism share much with the broken windows strategies popularized in the 1980s but which later would become the subject of much criticism. The zero-tolerance approach seeks to tackle small problems of crime and disorder in the community under the assumption that doing so will deter more serious crime. The logic model that underpins this assumption posits an indirect link between disorder and crime that is mediated by increased fear of crime and the resulting breakdown of informal social controls. According to the National Academy of Sciences report, broken windows policing has only shown to have small or nil effects on crime reduction and prevention. Even where it has shown promise, there is no indication that it follows the logic model (Weisburd & Majmundar, 2019). However, when it comes to terrorism, elements of zero-tolerance policing strategies may hold potential promise (Oliver, 2006).
First, while many terrorists are from the middle or even upper middle class (Gambetta & Hertog, 2017), a disproportionate number of terrorists emerge from a small number of communities, often characterized by being at the lower end of the socioeconomic strata (Kenney, 2011; Malthaner & Waldmann, 2014; Marone, 2017; Van Vlierden, 2016). There have been claims that police are hesitant to enter these communities to deal with ordinary crime and policing duties, with the media terming them “no-go zones.” By avoiding these areas, extremism may be left to ferment (Åberg, 2019; Kassam, 2017; Novotný, 2009).2
Second, previous studies have found that increases in subterroristic radical violence, such as violent protests and hate crimes, “close cousins” to terrorism, tend to predict an increased likelihood of terrorism (Mills, Freilich, & Chermak, 2017). This is related to another issue, the so-called progression model, in which individuals and groups involved in lower level offenses may progress to more serious offenses (Richardson, Berlouis, & Cameron, 2017). Spanish Judge Juan Cotino emphasized such a phenomenon with respect to Basque youth, stating that they “start out throwing rocks, then Molotov cocktails, and eventually pick up a pistol or wire a car-bomb” (Drago, 2001). While some criticize the escalation model, and indeed low-level radical activity is not a necessary precursor for terrorism involvement (McCauley & Moskalenko, 2017), many terrorism offenders have previously engaged in lower level radical violence. As an example, the 2013 beheading of Lee Rigby in the United Kingdom was carried out by a known activist with the now outlawed Al-Muhajiroun group. Michael Adebolajo had been involved in nonviolent activities, including some for which he was arrested (Pantucci, 2014). In fact, a number of Al-Muhajiroun activists had been arrested for non-terrorist offenses (Wiktorowicz & Kaltenthaler, 2006) and many later went on to become terrorists and foreign fighters (Pantucci, 2010; Vidino, 2015).
A zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism may also be important given that terrorism can be retaliatory in nature and may occur as a result of an uptick in hate crimes or even general crime directed toward a specific group (Mills et al., 2017). Feelings of personal and group-based discrimination can increase levels of radicalization (Wolfowicz et al., 2019). A failure to adequately handle hate crimes can lead to an environment in which different groups feel that such behavior is tolerated, and such an environment is conducive to terrorism (Agnew, 2016). Identifying that such issues may be risk factors for radicalization and terrorism may mean that a zero-tolerance policy toward subterroristic radical violence and hate crime can help reduce the risk of terrorism. As such, zero-tolerance policies are primarily intended to provide a high degree of deterrence by increasing the threat and risk or apprehension and the consequences with which it is associated (Walfield, Socia, & Powers, 2017).
Many countries already take a zero-tolerance approach. For example, Weenink (2012) details a case in the Netherlands in which a known radical was found to be in possession of two firearms. The investigation and arrest led to non-terrorism weapons charges only. However, this form of “proactive repression” demonstrates how police should and do respond more quickly to ordinary crime when radicals are involved. Such activities seek to target a broader range of crimes aside from terrorism but which could ultimately lead to terrorism if not disrupted.
One of the criticisms of zero-tolerance policies is that they target individuals and groups that have not yet committed any crimes. In more recent years, they have done this under the guise of “diversion” programs, often run as part of counter-radicalization programs. Like some of the criticisms of broken windows policing more generally, there have been concerns that these strategies can increase grievances related to discrimination and collective relative deprivation, thereby leading to a backlash effect (Tankabe, 2020). To try to offset some of the negative effects of different policies, community-oriented policing strategies have become a key focus of counter-radicalization and policing of terrorism strategies.
The community is an integral part of effective policing with respect to all types of crime, and especially with respect to terrorism, where in many cases it underpins problem-oriented and intelligence-led strategies (Ratcliffe, 2008). The community can serve as a vital source of intelligence, with its members being the most familiar with local languages, culture, and the nuances of that particular community, they have the best understanding of what signs to look out for (Ramirez & Quinlan, 2008; Ramirez, Quinlan, Malloy, & Shutt, 2013). Community-focused approaches have long been appreciated as one possible strategy for combating terrorism and are used to some degree or another across the EU, in the United States, Israel, Australia, and elsewhere (Innes, Roberts, Innes, Lowe, & Lakhani, 2011; Innes, Roberts, & Lowe, 2017; Schanzer, Kurzman, Toliver, & Miller, 2016). Surveys of police chiefs and officers in the United States have identified significant support for, and belief in, the effectiveness of community policing strategies for combating terrorism (Chappell & Gibson, 2009; Kearns, 2018; Vaughn Lee, 2010).
While community-based approaches are currently being implemented in a number of countries, the United Kingdom’s PREVENT model is centered on a synthesis of neighborhood-level community policing and an intelligence-led approach focused on intelligence gathering (Innes, 2006; Spalek, 2010). While the PREVENT strategy has been the subject of much criticism, including claims that it has turned Muslim communities into “suspect communities,” there is evidence that information provided to the police by local community members have led to the successful prevention of a number of terror attacks. In one case, British Muslim Khalid Mohamed Omar Ali was arrested while carrying a bag full of knives, apparently on his way to carry out a stabbing attack. According to officials, it was Ali’s family who had called authorities with the tip-off. Interestingly, following his arrest, Ali claimed that he had been “harassed” by MI5 in the year prior, including phone calls and even a home visit (Dodd & Travis, 2017). These claims may serve to highlight other proactive aspects of the United Kingdom’s approach, including focused deterrence (“high policing”) efforts and surveillance of high-risk individuals and its ramifications on police-community relations (Hasisi et al., 2009).
The community and neighborhood approach places a great focus on the reciprocal relationship between counterterrorism policing, attitudes toward the police, and willingness to cooperate with police (Klausen, 2009). Since the introduction of the CONTEST strategy, which gave the police a new mandate coupled with sweeping new powers, critics have pointed to the largely negative impact it has had in creating suspect communities out of Muslim communities (Awan, 2012; Ragazzi, 2016). Critics argue that the United Kingdom has simply repeated many of the same mistakes it made in Ireland now with regard to Muslims (Hickman, Thomas, Nickels, & Silvestri, 2012; Husband & Alam, 2011; Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). Others argue that the community-level focus fails to recognize the nature of the threat, and carries too many political risks (Klausen, 2009). Nevertheless, there is evidence that community members are not only willing to cooperate with police but have already done so, leading to the prevention of at least a handful of attacks. Perhaps evidence of this can be found in the findings of Thomas, Grossman, Miah, and Christmann (2017) that citizens in the United Kingdom prefer to report to local police over state-level agencies, and also prefer face-to-face meetings over using telephones or Internet communications.
The United Kingdom has identified a number of specific “hotspots” where potentially high-risk individuals and groups tend to emerge from and congregate (Innes, 2006). The identification of such hotspots is not unique to the United Kingdom, however. Studies have found that across Europe, a small number of communities may produce a relatively large number, or at least a disproportionate number, of radicals and terrorists. Proactive efforts focusing their attention on these communities have led to the foiling of large-scale attacks, such as the 2006 plot to use liquid explosives to blow up multiple airliners. This approach represents an overlap of community-oriented, place-based, and intelligence-led strategies.
Following in the footsteps of the United Kingdom, Australia has also recognized that a strong community-focused approach is essential for an effective strategy against terrorism. While Australian intelligence has been quite successful in preventing terror attacks, it has been recognized that the best intelligence is most likely to come from the very communities from which would-be terrorists may emerge. Like any good community-focused strategy, the Australian strategy places an emphasis on maintaining and bettering cooperation through the building of trust and legitimacy and the provision of procedural justice (Cherney, 2018; Cherney & Murphy, 2017; Dunn et al., 2016).
A study examining the Australian Muslim community’s perception of community policing strategies for combating terrorism found generally positive perceptions, with those surveyed expressing a desire to see the program expanded, and for relationships with the police and the community to be further improved (Dunn et al., 2016). For Australian Muslims, the primary community interest in new policies, procedural justice, and legitimacy for the police and the law, as well as Australian identity, have been found to increase willingness to cooperate with counter-terrorism (Cherney & Murphy, 2013; Madon, Murphy, & Cherney, 2016; Murphy, Cherney & Teston, 2019). A recent study found that procedural justice has a strong moderating effect for Muslims who feel stigmatized regarding their willingness to cooperate, reinforcing the importance of procedural justice in the delivery of community-focused policing strategies (Murphy, Madon, & Cherney, 2018).
Similar results have been found in the context of airport security and Israeli Arab passengers’ cooperation with the security checks (Perry & Hasisi, 2018), indicating significant overlap with what is known regarding procedural justice and willingness to cooperate with police more generally. While Jewish Israeli civilians are known to routinely report suspicious persons and objects to the police (Hasisi et al., 2009; Tucker, 2003), Metcalfe, Wolfe, Gertz, and Gertz (2016) found that some Israelis felt that the police too often ignored other important policing issues facing the community due to their focus on terrorism-related issues. Holding such a view was found to correlate with lower levels of legitimacy and willingness to cooperate with the police. According to Hasisi et al. (2009), a decline in legitimacy may also impact the willingness or sense of urgency to report suspected terrorist activity. These findings support other studies that found that Israelis were less likely to report ordinary crimes when they felt the police were too busy policing terrorism (Fishman, 2005; Jonathan & Weisburd, 2010; Weisburd et al., 2009).3 While the Israeli police command a relatively good level of support and legitimacy among the Jewish population, the same factors of legitimacy, trust, and procedural justice seem to be at work (Metcalfe & Hodge, 2018). These feelings are apparently not purely subjective, as Weisburd et al. (2010) found evidence that at times of heightened security threats, clearance rates for ordinary crimes decreased. However, other studies have found that legitimacy is also related to perceptions of police performance. At least for Jewish citizens, such perceptions may be just as important as procedural justice in influencing legitimacy and support for policing of terrorism (Jonathan, 2010; Jonathan-Zamir & Weisburd, 2013).
The New York Police Department (NYPD) is a good example of a local—albeit larger—police force that has adopted the ILP approach as a proactive strategy to policing terrorism within the context of a community-policing orientation (Kelling & Bratton, 2006). One defining feature of the NYPD’s approach is that officers from the intelligence division dedicate the majority of their time to specific intelligence-related tasks, with each precinct hosting a number of such officers. Some officers are dedicated to running informants, while others primarily engage in undercover work (Dahl, 2014). While studies have found that officers who are dedicated community policing officers may have advantages, their attempts to turn community members into informants could lead to an erosion of hard-earned trust (Hill, 2017).
There is certainly a difference between informants and average community members reporting what they see, hear, or suspect to local police. In the United States, efforts have been made to develop close cooperation with communities containing members considered to be at high risk for radicalization (Lum et al., 2009; Mastrofski & Willis, 2010). Muslim communities in the United States have demonstrated a generally strong willingness and commitment to assist law enforcement in combating terrorism (Ramirez et al., 2013; Ramirez & Quinlan, 2008). A study of Muslims in New York found that perceptions of legitimacy and procedural justice were key to increasing their willingness to cooperate with the police and report potential threats connected to terrorism (Tyler, Schulhofer, & Huq, 2010).
The extent to which community members have been instrumental in cooperating with law enforcement in the actual prevention of attacks should not be underestimated. For example, Kurzman (2011) found that 40% of terrorism convictions stemmed from community member tip-offs. Between 2002 and 2012, almost two dozen terrorist plots were foiled as a result of investigations following tip-offs from community members, 18 of which were from the Muslim community (Beutel, 2012). There were also an additional two cases which security forces did not act upon but which turned out to be legitimate. Overall, during this period, Muslim community members tipped off security agencies in 37% of Al-Qaeda related plots, and from 2009 to 2012, this figure increased to 50%. As these figures were based only on open-source information, they likely underrepresent the actual level of cooperation (Beutel, 2012). These figures also only represent a portion of foiled plots during the period. In both the United States and the EU, tips from community members have led to the prevention of a similar proportion of terror attacks as intelligence (Strom et al., 2011).
But concerns remain that mixing ILP with community policing in the context of counterterrorism could fail due to a focus more on intelligence gathering than on actual community relations (Hale, Heaton, & Uglow, 2004; McGarrell et al., 2007). Hill (2017) highlights the failure of police to stop a trend, which began in 2007, of young males of Somalian descent traveling from Minnesota to join the al-Shabaab group. Rather, the community members, including family, friends, and religious leaders, had to take steps on their own to combat this trend, by starting their own campaigns targeting at-risk youth, including parlor meetings and events organized by religious leaders who spoke out against the phenomenon. Ramirez et al. (2013) believe that had the police had a more open line of communication with the community, many of those who succeeded in leaving could have been stopped. Similar voices were raised from the Muslim community in the United Kingdom after the terror attacks in London on July 7, 2005, perpetrated by a group of “homegrown” offenders (Hasisi et al., 2009).
These examples seem to confirm the widespread belief that community-oriented strategies are not only well suited to the policing of terrorism but are an integral part of any grand strategy. On the other hand, we can also appreciate some of the concerns. While the necessary use of other strategies may inherently have some negative effects on police-community relations, maintaining a community-oriented focus on the implementation of these strategies can help to mitigate the magnitude of the detrimental impact.
In recent decades, policing practices have undergone significant changes. Arguably one of the most significant changes that has occurred has been the expansion of the police’s role into the policing of terrorism. This article drew on the findings of the recent report on proactive policing published by the National Academy of Science (NAS) to highlight how different proactive policing strategies are being used in the policing of terrorism in different Western contexts. The report identified four primary areas of policing strategies for which there is positive evidence to attest to their effectiveness, and the article applied these promising strategies to the area of terrorism. The report also highlighted how combining different strategies is both organic and lends to improved outcomes related to crime, and we demonstrated this to be the case for the policing of terrorism as well.
As with the policing of ordinary crime, problem-solving strategies are needed to first identify the nature of the problem and its different components. Whether derived from local police knowledge, intelligence sources, or more likely both, the proper identification and analysis of the problem is the first step in determining which solutions are most appropriate. While in some situations person-focused, place-focused, or community-focused strategies may be found to be more appropriate, it is more likely to be the case that when it comes to terrorism, a combination of strategies that draws on each of these dimensions is needed.
As criminology has expanded its uptake of terrorism research, a growing body of evidence has identified that criminals and terrorists have much in common. Even for those who have not actually engaged in terrorism activities, local police employing a range of intelligence-gathering methods are likely to have a good idea as to who the local extremists are. Similarly, recent research suggests that terrorism is likely to occur in a small number of specific places. Intelligence-led risk assessment should help police to identify those places where terrorism is most likely to occur. All these strategies are still heavily dependent on both high-quality intelligence and cooperation from the wider community. Especially given the fact that some of these strategies may be considered forms of invasive “high policing,” it is even more important to ensure that the community understands the importance of policing terrorism. Community-focused approaches provide the basis for the most effective applications of problem-oriented solutions development and serve as a basis for effective intelligence gathering. Moreover, the communities and their members are the primary beneficiaries of policing as they are the potential victims of successful terrorism.
While a number of scholars expressed concern that the mixing of police and counterterrorism would have negative consequences for both crime and terrorism control objectives, the evidence suggests that the police are the best equipped and positioned to prevent terrorism before it occurs. Police are the face of the state and they are the representatives of the state to whom citizens are most likely to come into contact daily (“the state in the street”). Their local knowledge and understanding, and their embeddedness in local communities, places them in a position in which they are the best suited to engage in proactive strategies for the policing of terrorism.
To varying degrees, most Western countries are already employing a range of proactive policing strategies in the policing of terrorism, although different social and political histories have shaped which strategies are given greater prominence (Crelinsten, 2009). There is no evidence to necessarily say which country’s model is better or more effective, however. Evaluating effectiveness by the ratio between successful and unsuccessful strategies is only one possible metric. However, it is possible to say that just as the NAS report highlights, combining elements from all four of the primary approaches in mutually supportive ways provides for the most-well-rounded approach to the policing of terrorism. While the literature is still lacking in its own evaluations of proactive strategies, this article highlights the importance of criminology as a field for informing us about how we should approach the issue of terrorism.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that the problem-oriented policing framework places a significant focus on learning from and drawing on the experiences of other organizations dealing with similar problems. This article brought examples from a number of different countries as to how different strategies have been implemented in the successful prevention of terror attacks. By following the successful examples of these countries, and taking a proactive, problem-oriented approach, other countries and their policing agencies will be able to increase their capabilities and implement the most evidence-based and effective strategies for policing terrorism. Such strategies should focus on specific places and individuals, increase deterrence but provide options such as rehabilitation, be fair and transparent, and involve communities and their leadership.
The examples discussed in this article highlight the importance of focusing on high-risk persons and places and taking a balanced approach that includes both carrots and sticks, providing opportunities for arrest as well as rehabilitation. In all cases, proactive strategies must strive to incorporate elements of procedural justice in order to build community cooperation and legitimacy and avoid the potential to negatively affect hard-earned relationships. These same principles have shown promising results in the areas of policing a variety of crime (e.g., gang activity, drugs markets, and repeated offenders) and we believe that the evidence indicates that they are equally applicable to the policing of terrorism.
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(1.) It is interesting to note that Martin and Sherman (1986, p. 173) actually believe that the earliest use of covert and proactive policing in the United States in the early 20th century was against terrorism, and only later was it taken up against ordinary crime.