At a time when some Americans fear the radicalization of Muslims in the United States, and others, a growing anti-Muslim sentiment, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says it has the solution to fighting home grown terrorism and creating peace among Muslim and non-Muslims.
In a city with one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, seeing a Muslim in uniform is still rare.
But Sherif Morsi is a Muslim and a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles. "Culturally, as kids are young, they're asked by their parents, 'Are you going to to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer or businessman. Law enforcement is not really on their list for various reasons," he said.
Jihad Turk of the Islamic Center of Southern California says Muslim immigrants in the U.S. often have a negative perception about law enforcement. "A lot of people who are Muslims in the United States come from other countries that are often times run by dictators and the police is just an extension of an oppressive regime," Turk said.
Deputy Morsi has worked for nearly four years to change that belief through the L.A. Sheriff's Department's Muslim Community Affairs Unit. The unit is the first of its kind in the country and aims to build trust through education and personal relationships.
"Certain Islamic centers, when we first go in uniform. people would avoid me like the plague. They would look at me from far away, try to avoid eye contact. They know I'm a Muslim. But still, I have a uniform on," Morsi said. "To them that was a sign of authority, a sign of mistrust, a sign of corruption and again from their experiences. The same center I go now, I'm met with hugs and kisses and lunches. It's been phenomenal."
Morsi says the Muslim community has not only provided tips on neighborhood crime, but also about potential extremists.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca started the Muslim Community Affairs Unit. He says the idea of public trust policing works at all levels of law enforcement.
"In the last 10 attacks that were solved by agencies in the federal government, FBI, seven of those last 10 involve Muslims being part of the information flow that brought forth and reveal those particular plots," Baca said.
Deputy Morsi says there is one major factor to radicalization. "I think the biggest thing is alienation, always feeling alienated and always considered as a suspect. I think that's one of the major facts that plays in a radical's mind," Morsi said.
Jihad Turk says anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. helps to create a breeding ground for extremism. "If the Muslim community is perceived to be targeted, the youth from that community then is ostracized by the rest of society, might turn to extreme violence as a way to push back against that," Turk said.
Turk says the Muslim community needs to integrate itself into society and the public needs to know that extremists in the U.S. are not limited to self-proclaimed Muslims.
To help fight Islamic radicalization and anti-Muslim sentiment, law enforcement agencies across the country are using the Muslim Community Affairs Unit's training video. The hope is that more understanding of the Muslim culture will lead to respect and trust from both sides so police and Muslims can be partners in fighting crime.