THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective: San Diego

By Matthew Harwood

You have a past in antigang initiatives. Why are antigang initiatives considered a model for countering violent extremism?

I think because some have assessed that the qualities of someone who has been radicalized are the same qualities of a person who joins a gang.

Do you agree with that?

I think there’s some truth to that. You don’t get real stable people, for the most part, joining the jihadi movement. Research shows the jihadi movement is all over the map. We’re not seeing one consistent profile of people. Some are mentally unstable. Some are from great families. It’s the same with street gangs though. It’s really hard to predict.

Some people would like to think solving the homegrown violent extremism threat is as simple as building a new community policing program, like the anti-gang programs in the past. While important and part of the solution, it is not the only solution. I have not read any data to suggest the number of gang members has decreased over the past decade; however, violence has. And isn’t that the goal of countering violent extremism? It requires a holistic solution to a very complex problem, including tough enforcement, community relations, education, and assimilation into the greater community.

Is it possible that becoming a national intelligence player could harm the trust that police officers have built in the communities they serve?

I’m certainly wary and concerned about that. We have the right controls in place to make sure we’re not violating people’s trust or violating their civil liberties. We are very clear that we have standards that cannot be broken for the sake of expediency or just because we are in the war on terror.

For instance, people ask whether we’re spying on mosques. The answer is no, we are not. In fact, we have a clear internal protocol that says we have to establish enough cause to go into any place of worship, whether it’s a mosque or a church.

We are very clear that that would take a high burden of probable cause and would need authorization from the highest levels of our department. That’s not something we would undertake lightly if it were ever to take place. There’s so many other ways to get that information that we don’t need to do that.

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