Community Policing 'Key' to Preventing Violent Extremism

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman in Boston, this is The World. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill held their first hearing today on the Boston marathon bombings. The House Homeland Security Committee began hearing testimony less than 3 weeks after the attacks. Homeland security official Juliette Kayyem says todays hearings showcase a familiar problem among security agencies.

Juliette Kayyem: The headline is clearly, total lack of knowledge. Complete knowledge by the local and state folks about uh, the FBI's concerns as well as Russia's concerns that were related through the FBI and CIA. There are entities in place which exist so that, that information can be shared, so it seems clear that at least in terms for preventing the attack, there was a communication breakdown.

Werman: Boston police commissioner Ed Davis was among those who testified today before the House Committee. He confirmed that he was not briefed about Russia's concerns about one of the alleged bombers that headed the attacks last month. Later in his testimony, he highlighted other ways to prevent future attacks, such as reaching out to immigrant communities before a crisis happens.

Ed Davis: We have developed information not through infiltration, but through appealing of this sense of community and nation. You can't develop a relationship with someone in a crisis. It has to be developed before the crisis. It has to be real attention paid to who's in our community, and what are we doing to talk to them? We do that through outreach classes, but we also have great luck with social media recently.

Werman: Juliette Kayyem agrees that creating a new model of policing that gains the confidence of all citizens, including immigrants, could be the key to preventing another attack.

Kayyem: Well, we know now after 30 or 40 years of community policing in urban environments. It is that integration of that sense of outreach is really how you're going to get information from communities, people are going to feel empowered to come forward. Look- we have an issue here, which is there are clearly people within the communities here: neighbors, friends the mosque, that knew something was up. Now whether that should justify them saying, "Hey police, look in to the older brother," we don't know. But that kind of outreach with communities that feel empowered by the police is exactly how after the race riots in the 60"²s and 70"²s this is how urban police departments change. And so I think its important people see terrorism is different in different respects, but a lot of the lessons we've learned in the past actually can help us with the kind of outreach that Commissioner Davis and others know is true, and will eventually work.

Werman: Do you think there's is anything that could have been different in Boston?

Kayyem: You could imagine a scenario in which uh, community members and friends and neighbors told local police about [inaudible] And what was going on, and the FBI tells the local police, wait, the Russians have talked about him as well, and maybe eureka! We could have stopped this. It's a lot of ifs, I think we need to play them out and figure out could that have happened? So I think that looking at the JTF, the Joint Terrorism taskforce, sort of figuring out why that breakdown occurred, and how we fix that is important. Simply because we're investing a lot of these if they're not in these. If they're not working, let's get a system that is going to work. And finally, Commissioner Davis did not say this explicitly because he's a good police chief, but there are two models of counterterrorism within local and urban police departments. They are the sort of more heavy handed NYPD approach, which we saw play out in the last couple years in third demographics unit where they were looking in and infiltrating mosques, and then what commissioner Davis described, which is more integration, that outreach, something that I think is representative of the community that we live in here in Massachusetts. Those are two different models, neither is perfect. Terrorism is going to happen under both watches, but it was an interesting dynamic about at least, y'know, Commissioner Davis putting his vote on the integration side of "this is how we're really going to solve this problem." It's not an epidemic but it is a problem of domestic or homegrown violent extremism.

Werman: What exactly could friends and neighbors, people at the mosques, what could that have done exactly? See something say something tends to get sort of onerous at one point.

Kayyem: Yes. I think that's right. And that would be, y'know, if I could guide any review of this, that would be my question would be really what would the dynamics going on in the mosque and in the community that might have at least triggered some concern about potential radicalization. And were there mechanisms by which the mosques or the other community members would have felt comfortable going to either the Cambridge police or the mosques or the Boston police. In Boston, Massachusetts there is a mechanism it's called BRIDGES, it's a long acronym in which immigrant communities, religious communities in particular, Islamic communities and others meet with local and state law enforcement, and people should feel empowered by that mechanism. And it sounds like either there wasn't enough on the brother to get anyone worried, or that the community didn't feel confident about the information. And that's unfortunately this isn't easy. I know everyone's saying if only we could have done this or done that, I mean, this stuff is hard because at some stage you don't wasn't an east German circa 1980s society, you want people to be able to pray and be together in an open demographic society without everyone pointing fingers at each other. This is just simply not easy, and each time, hopefully we'll get better from the lessons we'll learn, from what happened out of Boston

Werman: That was Juliette Kayyem, former counterterrorism official in the Obama administration, now a columnist for the Boston globe.