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Why local law enforcement is a cornerstone of homeland security

Building strong relationships with the community allows local police to develop sources of information that can be vital to preventing acts of terror


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Why local law enforcement is a cornerstone of homeland security

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Since September 11, 2001, law enforcement has worked closely with federal agencies to more effectively coordinate strategies to prevent and respond to terrorism. However, despite the involvement of federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security has always contended that homeland security begins with hometown security. In other words, the safety and security of our nation relies in large part on the men and women serving their communities all across the country, and their knowledge and insight into what’s happening on their streets.

This focus on local law enforcement stems from the fact that when individuals or groups plan or execute acts of terror and violent extremism, regardless of their ideologies, the crimes are, in the vast majority of cases, local crimes. Terrorists generally aim to impact a specific local area, whether an outdoor market or demonstration in a small city or a major sporting event in a large urban center.

The crimes of planning and carrying out of acts of terror take place on a local level, meaning that local law enforcement is on the front line of protecting their communities. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, Pool)
The crimes of planning and carrying out of acts of terror take place on a local level, meaning that local law enforcement is on the front line of protecting their communities. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, Pool)

The crimes of planning and carrying out of acts of terror take place on a local level, meaning that local law enforcement is on the front line of protecting their communities. It’s simply impractical — even impossible — for federal agents to monitor everything taking place in every community in America, and therefore it’s vital to have local police on the streets serving as the eyes and ears for DHS — and building the relationships that can help keep our homeland safe.

Community Policing and Homeland Security

The idea of community policing is not necessarily new, but it has taken on new life in the post-9/11 world as the field of homeland security develops and officials learn more about what works when it comes to protecting our country.  Officially, community policing is a proactive approach to law enforcement that requires working within the community to identify and solve the underlying issues that lead to crime and other public safety issues. The guiding principle of community policing is problem-solving; all police operations and decisions are guided by the notion of solving problems.

One prime example of community policing in the context of homeland security is the city of Dearborn, Michigan. Dearborn has one of the highest concentrations of Arab-Americans in the country; in 2001, nearly 200,000 people of Arab descent called Dearborn home. In the days and weeks following 9/11, hate crimes against Arabs in the U.S. increased by 1,700 percent, and Dearborn was a primary target, given its large Muslim population and erroneous reports that the people of the city were celebrating the attacks in New York and Pennsylvania.

However, unlike in many cities in the U.S. at the time, the Dearborn police stepped up protections of the Arab-Americans in their community. Although the residents of Dearborn may have had concerns about other aspects of the police force in their town, the response to the increased threats to those living in the community helped establish trust and foster stronger relationships, and became a model of community policing. Instead of responding to hate crimes after the fact, the police stepped up to prevent them from happening in the first place.

The Dearborn police response to terrorism after 9/11 underscored the role of local law enforcement and community policing in the fight against terror. Community policing in terms of terrorism and extremism should be focused on community protection. This includes investigating suspicious packages and behavior, securing and patrolling potential targets of attacks, and developing emergency response plans to limit casualties by training future officers with emergency management degrees.

MAINTAINING TRUST

Again, community policing is about building partnerships with the community and proactive problem-solving. Maintaining those partnerships through trust is a crucial element to community policing, and sometimes requires a complicated balancing act.

In the case of Dearborn, federal officials requested that local police officers interview a number of foreign U.S. visa holders who hailed from countries with suspected ties to terrorism. While these interviews were voluntary, and designed only to provide officials with information that might be useful in the war on terror, the residents of Dearborn were concerned that the meetings were little more than ethnic profiling, and could result in deportation or worse. The police were concerned that the mere fact that they were conducting the interviews would irreparably damage the trust they had built with the people of the community. Ultimately, the police were only present at the interviews, and did not conduct them, but the entire incident revealed the delicate nature of local law enforcement’s role in homeland security, and the importance of maintaining a strong community police presence.

Ultimately, the concept of community policing is effective in preventing terrorism, as well as street and property crime. Building strong relationships with the community allows local police to develop sources of information that can be vital to preventing acts of terror, something that is all but impossible for federal intelligence agencies.

Community policing also engages the public in homeland security, helping to ensure that accurate information is shared, and that citizens are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to help keep their communities secure. In the end, local police truly are a cornerstone of homeland security.


About Waldorf University
Based in Forest City, Iowa, Waldorf University is a liberal arts institution that delivers engaging learning experiences through innovative residential and online instruction while providing students associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and certificates in organizational leadership, criminal justice, fire science, theater, education, biology and more.  Visit Waldorf.edu to learn more.

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