I am fortunate to work with creative and committed public servants. Today’s post was written by one such person, John L. Farrell, Deputy Managing Director, City of Philadelphia.
In this essay, John links prevention, de-radicalization and community development in a way I have not seen done before.
The usual caveat: The views are John’s and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.
US counterterrorism, military, and police forces are focused on executing tactics to disrupt activities that pose a threat to public safety. These strategies have become increasingly effective and efficient, but they have a common shortcoming – they are all reactive. The US lacks a strategy aimed at prevention – one that seeks to stop individuals from choosing an extremist path before they are fully committed. However, the need for such efforts is recognized in the National Strategy for Counterterrorism (2011).
The Cities of Philadelphia and Chicago have developed engagement strategies that aim to empower residents to make their communities safer. I believe that these strategies can be applied to the larger homeland security (HS) enterprise, and that HS systems can operate more effectively by involving underrepresented communities in their processes.
The Rising System
To improve HS, the US should develop a domestic coordination and engagement system (“Rising System”) to link federal, state, and local governments (collectively, “government”). The process would begin with the identification of communities that pose potential threats to public safety. Local government officials would then begin dialogue to gain a deeper understanding of the targeted community, led by a single point of contact (“coordinator”). The coordinator would lead the development of strategies through which the government and the group could work together to address issues identified by the community.
Though a simple idea, this runs counter to the traditional theory of government as a service provider. Instead of “big brother” knowing what is best for a community, the community would prioritize its needs, and the coordinator would facilitate the delivery of resources. The goal of this process would be to build trust with the targeted community. By listening to community members and delivering on promises, government representatives may be able to develop relationships that help these communities identify themselves as partners rather than adversaries.
This strategy would not demand a large amount of new funding, an important aspect for two reasons. First, significant financial investments are not practical or feasible for cash-strapped governments across the US. Second, directing money to specific groups could reward negative behaviors (i.e. if a group wants money from the government, they should threaten public safety). Instead, coordinators would be responsible for identifying existing organizations and programs (both inside and outside of government) that provide the services necessary to address the community’s needs. Focusing existing resources and implementing policy changes could prove to be small investments with a large return on improved security.
Local governments are the logical choice to lead dialogue because in many cases they already have ties to either the targeted groups, or second level connections through credible sources that could provide introductions. To support local efforts, the federal government would need to develop structures to organize the resources of various agencies involved. In Robert Deardorff’s thesis Countering Violent Extremism: the Challenge and the Opportunity, he suggests the federal government develop Regional Outreach and Operational Coordination Centers (ROOCC) to help coordinate engagement activities. Essentially, Deardorff envisions ROOCC as housing a wide variety of specialists to conduct outreach missions within the US. The ROOCC could serve as the overarching mechanism to unite local outreach representatives with federal support in Rising Systems.
Defining the Problem
The Rising System would be geared toward developing a true prevention element for the HS enterprise. Current US HS practices are primarily focused on disruption, not prevention – intelligence analysts and investigators seek connections to learn about terror plots and stop them before implementation. True prevention, however, occurs long before this stage. True prevention involves stopping individuals from becoming extremists in the first place.
Nolan, Conti, and McDevitt suggest there is a direct correlation between the level of crime in a community and the degree to which members of that community are organized. They place neighborhoods in one of four types – Strong (low crime and high organization), Vulnerable (low crime and low organization), Anomic (high crime and low organization) or Responsive (high crime and high organization). The primary goal of the Rising System, then, would be twofold: to help Anomic neighborhoods become Responsive, if not Strong; and for government to gain access to Strong and Responsive communities that may not trust them.
Conducted properly, the Rising System can also help the US address the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to counter the terrorist narrative. By bringing communities such as American Muslims into a partnership with the government, the US will have subject matter experts to help refine how its message is conveyed. As is the case with deradicalization strategies, the use of respected members of targeted groups to convey a message will be critical to this program’s success. These practices should ultimately lead to closer ties between US Muslims and the government, which will eventually work to debunk myths that the government is anti-Muslim. Countering extremist ideology may help eliminate the flow of recruits to extremist organizations, which will contribute to their demise.
An engagement strategy that builds relationships can also help to reduce the impact of several of the antinomies that Philip Bobbitt describes in Terror and Consent, namely “the separation between the domestic and the international,” “the different rules we apply to law enforcement and intelligence operations,” and “the different reliance we place on secret as opposed to open sources.” Relationships with leaders in local communities can build trust, which may encourage them to volunteer sensitive information. This may help to eliminate, or at least reduce, the need for more invasive monitoring methods. In cases where more invasive monitoring is necessary, the volunteered information may provide the probable cause needed to justify such actions in a criminal or FISA court, alleviating a concern associated with intelligence collection standards usually applied to foreign agents.
The Rising System will also help to inform government about how to best deploy resources in a difficult fiscal environment. By conducting the proper analysis of where grievances exist, government can provide opportunities where citizens leverage existing resources to improve their standing, and contribute to American society. Implementation of the Rising System may thus aid in the shift to what Bobbitt describes as a government in a “market state” rather than a “nation state.” As community members use these resources and contribute to their neighborhood, they may also take ownership of their neighborhood, hopefully making them less likely to shield threats to security.
Whom Would the Rising System Benefit?
Those who stand to gain the most from such a program are the members of the targeted communities. They will see an improved level of service in areas that may be described as underserved, poor, or forgotten. Local elected officials will benefit, as their knowledge of the community will play an important role in lending legitimacy to the program. A Rising System’s success will in turn lend local elected officials political capital as they bring improved quality of life to their community.
The HS enterprise in general will benefit, but certain organizations may oppose the idea. In theory, everyone in the public safety and HS realms benefits from anything that reduces the number of threats. However, the proposal itself could be intimidating to some agencies, as it will force them to either evolve their missions, or reduce the need for their services. There will always be a need for enforcement, intelligence sharing, and most other aspects of the HS enterprise. However, the reduced demand for service may also result in reduced levels of funding, a proposition that few agencies appreciate. This may also be true for those receiving funding from the federal government that is not community-based, as a change in strategy may interfere with their funding streams.
A strong opposition for this process could come from civil libertarians. They may be able to argue that the Rising System could lead communities to conduct witch-hunts for suspects, especially those who they may want to ostracize for reasons other than public safety. The judiciary would need to be properly briefed on the process, and help create safeguards to prevent relationships from being exploited in this manner.
The Next Steps to Implement the Rising System
Versions of the Rising System are already being implemented at a local level in Philadelphia and Chicago, but without the connection to the federal government. Philadelphia’s PhillyRising Collaborative is a geographically-based system for coordinating the services of the City government and outside organizations. Similarly, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) has conducted local coordination and outreach since 1993. PhillyRising and CAPS both rely on engagement and citizen participation to drive change in troubled neighborhoods, and have demonstrated success in their respective jurisdictions.
Assuming Philadelphia and/or Chicago were used as a pilot, the next immediate steps would be for the federal government to develop a formal support mechanism. This could be done through the establishment of Deardorff’s ROOCC, but could also be less formal. It could simply involve a high-level executive from the federal government conducting regular meetings with local representatives from PhillyRising and CAPS to gather information and coordinate resources.
There is a great need for this program to have support from the highest levels. Though the operations are predicated on a bottom-up approach for determining strategies for each targeted community, support from the top is necessary to make implementation successful.
Outcomes of a Successful Implementation
In a successful implementation, governments at all levels would establish new relationships in communities where they previously had little access. These relationships would inform civil servants and elected officials in a way that would make government more responsive to citizens’ needs. While data analysis can provide a baseline for certain factors in a community, it cannot always determine which issues are the most significant to the everyday lives of residents.
If the Rising System were implemented correctly: government at all levels would be more responsive; communities would build capacity for assuring internal public safety; partnerships would develop sustainable solutions to local problems that produce opportunities for residents; governments would enhance intelligence capabilities; and governments would utilize resources more efficiently by gaining a better understanding of where funding is needed most. The Rising System could lead governments to operate smarter, faster, and better:
Smarter Government – The Rising System would encourage agency representatives to meet regularly to identify overlapping problems and develop and deliver collaborative solutions to long-term, complex issues. As officials adapt to serving residents in this manner, the Rising System would create a means for right-sizing resources as well as agency structures.
Faster Government – By improving front-line coordination among officials, service delivery would become more efficient. As the system progresses, integration of technology systems would facilitate information-sharing, joint planning, and delivery of services.
Better Government – The Rising System would shift the determination for success from strictly agency-based measures to actual outcomes seen in targeted communities. The Rising System would create a mechanism for regional accountability for public safety, and help define the public safety role of organizations outside of the traditional HS field. On an external level, the Rising System would reform the governments’ relationship with targeted communities by fostering involvement by local groups to help continue progress.
While a successful implementation would bring many positive aspects, the relationship developed between the government and the community should also involve a degree of debate. Discussion surrounding strategies, perceptions, and messaging is a healthy exercise that can lead to the improvement of government operations. This is particularly true in the case of the “narrative” that the 9/11 Commission suggested is needed to counter recruitment efforts by terrorist organizations.
There are many statistics that could be used to determine the success or failure of such an endeavor, and each stakeholder would likely have their own metrics to determine success. Agencies such as the FBI, for instance, may evaluate success by the number of tips received from the targeted community, or the number of plots they are able to disrupt due to such information. The local police department could measure success by the change in crime rate for the targeted community, as is the case for the Philadelphia Police Department’s evaluation of PhillyRising. Residents or members of the community may determine success by their perception of their quality of life, something that may need to be determined in a survey.
There are some factors that may be useful to evaluate for all stakeholders involved. The first is the number of potential recruits who are dissuaded from taking an extremist path. The number of people stopped shows that the program is credible and effective, and benefits every group involved. It is a statistic that will also impact almost all of the others mentioned – if FBI does not have to disrupt a plot, no crime was committed, and the community can feel safer having that person as a productive member of society, rather than a fringe element determined to attack it. A principal difficulty may come in measuring this number beyond those affected by direct intervention.
The Rising System would also track changes to the relationship between community members and agencies. This may be measured by factors such as increases in the community’s faith that their requests will not only be heard, but completed to the greatest extent possible. These responses, though difficult to quantify, will determine an initial acceptance of the Rising System by the local community. Their acceptance is absolutely necessary for the positive changes in the targeted area to occur and continue.
Ultimately, a successful neighborhood will be one where the Rising System’s coordinated approach is no longer needed – the community members will have taken over the process themselves, and developed relationships with the government that no longer require a central coordinator.
We already know that existing US HS measures to disrupt terrorist/public safety activities are not always successful. While our tactics for operations have become outstanding, they rely on the premise of detecting a threat before it is executed. Because knowledge is inherently limited, this strategy cannot always be successful. However, by developing a strategy that prevents at least some plots from reaching the point of execution, public safety officials may become more effective by focusing resources on a smaller number of threats. Violent crime and terrorist activities in the US may never end, but by bringing more people into the government’s decision making process, and by providing more opportunities to those who may otherwise slip between the cracks, the US can develop more friends than enemies.