Police and the Prevention of Terrorism

Police and the Prevention of Terrorism

It is becoming clear that the police have an important role in preventing terrorism. They are in a good position to learn about and investigate local terrorist threats, and they can work to ensure that vulnerable targets in their jurisdictions are protected. Filling the first of these functions, investigation of terrorists, will require police to extend their normal community policing activities and improve their handling of information. Filling the second function, protecting vulnerable targets, will require greater adjustments. They will need to become more expert in crime prevention and security matters, and they will have to develop partnerships with businesses and a wide range of public and private agencies. However, these changes are consistent with current best practices in policing.

Local police are the best personnel who can prevent the terror attacks by deactivating the sleeper cells and terror groups if they go after the basic principles of policing including patrolling, information gathering, and surveillance of suspects of the area concerned. They are the appropriate persons in a good position to find out and investigate local terrorist threats, and they can work to neutralize the sleeper cells and ensure that vulnerable targets in their jurisdictions are protected. The former home affairs minister P Chidambaram once rightly observed that “There is no substitute for the policeman who walks the streets. He is the gatherer of intelligence, the enforcer of the law, the preventer of the offence, the investigator of the crime and the standard-bearer of the authority of the State, all rolled into one. If he is not there, it means that all these functions are not performed.”

Preparing Local Officers:
In most cases, local officers’ training supports the assumption that international terrorism isn’t something of significant concern to them; domestic threats are where their focus lies. It turns out, though, that police officers on the beat do have opportunities to assist efforts against international terrorism.

Focus on Training:
To shift this mindset so officers see a bigger picture of fighting terrorism requires one thing: enhanced training.Police departments should seek out continuous training about the current state of international terrorism and the indicators beat officers on U.S. streets might see. Nearby field offices of federal agencies can offer support, often at no cost to the local department. These agencies could provide:

  • Training sessions that would help officers understand the validity of the threat,
  • Information about what types of activities to look for while on patrol,
  • Points of contact if patrol officers encounter suspicious people or activities,
  • Assistance developing emergency response plans for when attacks do occur.

Expand “Eyes and Ears”
One of the most effective strategies is one already in use for other purposes, one commonly referred to by the phrase “eyes and ears.”Just as departments rely on neighborhood watch groups and civilian patrols to be extra sets of eyes and ears for their officers, it is crucial for these same officers to act as extra eyes and ears for the various federal agencies that investigate terrorism cases. This does not really require any new skills from officers; they are on the lookout for suspicious activity just as they normally would be, but with a heightened cognizance of the terrorist threat.This eyes and ears strategy can be highly effective, as officers typically have unimpeded access when patrolling high-potential targets such as airports, seaports, bus/subway terminals, churches, schools, shopping malls, landmarks, sports arenas, hospitals, and tourist attractions.

Showing Support
Because police officers have such an important role to play in fighting terrorism, it’s important that they receive encouragement and support from the communities they serve. Support can and should come from schools, businesses, families, and individuals, and it can come in multiple forms. For example, Idaho health and wellness company Melaleuca recently lit its building with blue lights at night. The extremely visible gesture was a decision made by the company’s CEO Frank VanderSloot to thank local law enforcement for keeping the community safe. Expressions of gratitude don’t always need to be grand, however, as any officer would appreciate a simple “thank you” and a handshake from an appreciative citizen.


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