The pilot curriculum first ran in San Diego in 2012 with various police departments and since then has been run in Los Angeles. The LAPD submitted the curriculum to the DHS in 2012, which made it available through its portal for law enforcement to use across the country.
The unit also conducts forums twice a year and works with Muslims to make sure their voices are heard when new policies are proposed in city government. These forums are cochaired by Downing and a member of the Muslim community and are used to create a dialogue between the LAPD and the community. The chief of police typically speaks at each forum along with community members, who are encouraged to speak about any concerns they have. There is also typically a special presenter; for example, there was a speaker on the threat of online radicalization in September 2013. After the speakers are done, the attendees–anywhere from 70 to 100 people—all eat dinner together, explains Downing.
These kind of measures help build trust in the community and build resilience so that it becomes harder for VE to take root, and so that if members of the community hear someone espousing such ideas, “they’re more apt to talk to us about it,” Downing says.
The LAPD and the LA County Sheriff’s Department also make an effort to stand by the Muslim community when terrorist attacks do occur in the United States. After an attack, the two law enforcement agencies hold a press conference with members of the Muslim community, giving them an opportunity to denounce acts of terror. These events also help reduce hate crimes and targeting of Muslims after a terrorist attack, Downing says.
Some other urban law enforcement agencies are adopting similar outreach programs, but more needs to be done, Downing says. “If we could get this idea institutionalized and spread across police departments across America that would be a really great thing.”
One organization that’s helping to bridge the gap of outreach available in different communities is the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a public service agency that focuses on bringing awareness about violent extremism in the American Muslim community, says Director Haris Tarin, a former Los Angeles Muslim school teacher. “The imams on the ground, the local community members, are not experts in extremism,” he says, adding that MPAC has tried to help with the knowledge gap by putting out publications, videos, and conducting an awareness campaign to help educate Muslims about extremism in their community.