Scholars and practitioners at the IACP conference indicate that there are no easy solutions to confronting radicalization and extremism in the U.S., but there are key elements that must be incorporated into any effective strategy. Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Downing and St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith shared their views of how to prevent the radicalization of Muslim youth in their communities.

Both emphasized that community partnerships and outreach programs, especially for youth, were critical components of successful programs. These partnerships should be interdenominational, multicultural and intergenerational, and include public and private sector partners. Both strategies emphasized the importance of understanding historical trauma, which is a factor that can impact community trust of law enforcement.  Addressing community perceptions about race, religion and cultural difference were also important to building broad-based community cohesion.

Chief Smith noted that the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is home to approximately 80,000 Somali residents, and is the largest group of Somali Americans living in the U.S. To effectively reach this population, he developed partnerships with Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau and Hennepin County Sherriff Rich Stanek to interact with Somali adults, youth and children. They have created Somali law enforcement education classes to give community residents more insights into how local police departments work. Chief Smith reported that the St. Paul Police Department hired its first Somali American police officer in 2012, and in 2014 hired the first female Somali American police officer.

Minneapolis/St. Paul has been ground zero for terrorist recruiters and is alleged to be the center of ISIS recruitment efforts in the U.S. Efforts must counter the feelings of frustration and alienation which unfortunately can cause youth to identify with an extremist group; much like disaffected youth may join gangs.

The panelists also discussed the threat of homegrown terrorism, which can include neo-Nazis and white supremacists, which may seek to launch domestic attacks such as the massacre in Charleston, S.C. While terrorism will never be eliminated, the panelists agreed that coordinated partnerships with the community and international, federal, state and local law enforcement is key.

This post was written by Sharon Sayles Belton, vice president of Government Affairs & Community Relations at Thomson Reuters. 

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