The White House says fighting homegrown extremism in the United States is a top national security priority. The Los Angeles Police Department is working with the Department of Homeland Security to implement a plan to train police across the country to prevent extremism.
A White House counter-terrorism plan announced earlier this month calls for local police to work with U.S. minority and immigrant communities. The second-largest city in the United States, Los Angeles, is home to immigrants from around the world. “We are one of the most diverse cities in the world. We have more languages spoken here than I think anywhere in the United States and possibly the world," he said.
Deputy Chief Michael Downing heads the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department. He says local authorities have been working closely with federal agencies and members of the community for years. “The world is globalized. The threat is internationalized that traditional crime has become transnational. ... people that live in our country now represent this whole globe," he said.
Downing says sensitivity to how immigrants think and react to world events in their home country will help them feel less isolated and prevent extremist behavior. He says building trust through relationships and addressing minority community concerns is key.
Omar Ricci of the Muslim Public Affairs Council agrees. “It develops a partnership where Muslims are not treated as suspects, but treated as resources in combating the more global problem of terrorism," he said.
Community outreach is the job of police officer Chand Syed, who is of Pakistani descent, was born in Saudi Arabia, and raised in the United States. “My religion and my ethnicity has assisted because I have an understanding, and I can talk on a level that other police officers might not be able to," he said.
Downing says programs like those of the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments that reach out to minority communities are not common among U.S. law enforcement agencies. "Ninety percent of the police agencies in America have less than 100 officers," he said.
He says smaller police agencies do not have the resources or training to form partnerships with minority groups.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Bibring says without proper training there is a danger of ethnic profiling. “We just need to make sure that whoever is doing that policing focuses on activity that actually gives rise to a suspicion of criminal activity or suspicion of terrorist activity, instead of focusing broadly on protected constitutional conduct like photography or on particular racial or religious groups," he said.
Downing says Los Angeles Police do not practice broad profiling. “If we are profiling as it relates to terrorism, we are profiling behavior only. It does not matter what you look like, it does not matter what god you worship," he said.
Downing says Los Angeles police are working with federal officials to develop effective training for law enforcement across the country.
The White House Plan also wants groups, such as schools, that do not normally deal with such issues to be involved with countering violent extremism. But Officer Syed says accomplishing that is complicated. “Funding is a big thing, education. My unit could definitely use more officers. We would love to do more outreach and engagement with different communities, but we are limited by budget," he said.
Syed says he hopes the White House will provide the money to carry out its plan to fight extremist threats in the United States.