The unit also helps set up volunteer opportunities for Muslim youth and works with other agencies to create civic engagement opportunities. “We engage the youth, and let them see that there is an alternative to extremism,” Abdeen says, explaining that when young people do not feel engaged in their community, it can lead to a feeling of disconnection, which can create fertile ground for radicalization.
The LA Sheriff’s Department (LAPD) also coordinates efforts with the Los Angeles Police Department, working specifically with Deputy Chief Mike Downing, head of the LAPD Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau. Downing says the two departments have seen a great increase in community trust since they began working on community outreach programs.
The key is consistency. The LAPD unit focuses on “constant outreach” not just through the unit, but throughout the whole department to help show the community that “police are more than just law and order,” Downing says.
With support from the DHS in 2011, the LAPD developed a pilot program for officers to reach out to any community that feels isolated, Downing explains. The curriculum teaches officers about various communities’ cultures and traditions of communities that don’t typically integrate with law enforcement.
This understanding of the “human terrain” is crucial to countering VE because each community is different and calls for a different approach, Downing says. “Violent extremism expresses itself differently in Los Angeles [than in] other communities,” he says.
One example of the curriculum in action is the fear that the Coptic-Christian community was experiencing after the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. “They felt like they were targets, and they felt like there was a lot of oppression that maybe some locals didn’t understand,” Downing says. To combat this, the LAPD reached out to the community using tools from the curriculum to find out where they got their news and why they were afraid. The LAPD sent targeted information out to them about the situation in Egypt, and attended their local events to help foster trust.