Fighting radicalisation with the help of the law

I just realised that the title of this blog is a little ambiguous.   For the purposes of this entry I don’t mean using legislation to deal with the effects of radicalisation (passport seizure, peace bonds, arrests, etc.).  No, here I mean using law enforcement personnel to help stop radicalisation before it starts.

We know – or rather it seems clear – that getting at people before they start down the path to violent radicalisation or just after they begin the process is better than leaving it until later.  I don’t know if there is any data or study to prove this but  it sure sounds intuitive.  Anyway, it’s a hypothesis.

The problem is: who is best placed to intervene?  I don’t think there is an easy answer.  In some cases it might be parents and family, although it is far from clear that they would have the skillset or the objectivity to do so.  Religious  leaders also come to mind, but they too lack training in many cases and most are swamped with other duties.  Government?  Problematic – people aren’t sure what the motive is and what the end game will be (is the government only interested for intelligence gathering purposes?).  So, who does that leave?

How about the police?

I thought of this when I came across a story about a cop in Kyrgyzstan who goes into schools and tells kids all about the real IS – not the fairyland image the terrorist group puts out on social media (see story here).  Now I know that Kyrgyzstan is not a poster child for liberal democracy but it looked from the feedback from some of the students that he was getting his message across.  So well done Kyrgyzstan!

Of course we here in Canada have our own models where police forces play an important role.  The two best established ones are in Calgary (Redirect) and Toronto (Focus Rexdale).  From what my sources tell me, both are busy and have started on referrals.  It is clearly too early to claim success, but the programmes are heading in the right direction in my opinion.  And I know of at least one other police force in Canada that wants to try this approach.

You have to understand that the role of the police is that of a coordinator.  The whole point of early intervention strategies is to act in what is called the “pre-criminal space”, i.e. before a criminal act is committed or on the verge of being committed.  So the police is not in this to make arrests.  It is there to help determine what the problem is and who is best placed to intervene.  Is there a mental health issue?  A social issue?  Trouble at school?  Family dysfunction?  The person who is identified as the initial intervener tries to help and an assessment is made on whether progress is being made before moving on.  In principle a good model.

I salute those law enforcement agencies that have taken these steps and devised programmes.  Yes, they build on other, older intervention models for issues like gangs and drugs, but radicalisation to violence is a different beast.  These forces will have to adapt to deal with situations where those at risk often look very different from their normal “clientele” (in terms of family background, education level, criminal past, psychological profile, etc.).

Eventually, and I don’t mean any disrespect to what the police are doing, these programmes will have to be run by local communities and leaders.  The police will have to take an even more distant back seat since for some they represent the law, and the law represents arrests and arrests represent jail.  For those from countries where law enforcement does not perform to the high standards we impose here, seeing a police officer is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst.  A non-uniformed response to a potential case of radicalisation may work well.

So thank you to those forces which have stepped up.  I am sure that they will leave solid bases for future efforts to thrive.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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