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          • Year: 2015
          • Good practices in engaging women in preventing terrorism in the UK

          • How community policing can help in the fight against terrorism was the topic of the interview BCSP researcher Aurelija Djan had with Simon Smith, chief inspector within the National UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office.

        • The recent killing spree in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris has triggered a hot discussion on preventing and fighting terrorism including violent extremism worldwide. Globally, one may argue that terrorism does not pose as big threat to security as other security threats (poverty, HIV, environmental threats etc.). On the other side, the massacre of twelve people should require strategic approach to countering terrorism if societies want to effectively prevent future criminal activities of this kind.

          Serbia has been vocal in addressing possible terrorist attacks on its grounds as well. Besides public proclamation on its readiness to fight terrorism, it is not clear which concrete steps is Serbia to take in order to address prevention of terrorism.

          By looking at the good examples in the United Kingdom, BCSP Researcher Aurelija Djan was interested to find out how community- oriented policing can help fighting terrorism especially when it comes to women’s engagement. The interview with Simon Smith, a chief inspector within the National UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office offers a valuable insight into the ways police can better reach out to the communities in which they serve. He also shared example of good practice regarding community policing in relation to engagement of women in countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism. His primary job involves preventing terrorism across various locations in the United Kingdom.

          The interview was done at the expert workshop jointly held by the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which brought together experts and practitioners on 13-14 May 2014 in Istanbul Turkey.

          How The Counterterrorism strategy in the UK has changed in order to include community-oriented policing in terrorism prevention?

          CONTEST, the United Kingdom's counter-terrorism strategy came out in 2009, but it was changed by the Government in 2011 and there was a reason for that. Basically the government decided that they need to put more focus on ways of prevention and how to best alert the public of terrorist threats. So CONTEST has been split into four streams out of which the Prevent strategy was designed to do that. Underpinning of the Prevent was engagement with key communities. Those communities were Muslim communities. That all was well and good, but of course it is very crude too that the police would do something engaging with all the Muslim communities ona very sensitive political terrorism issue. Automatically you need to expect that the Muslim will think, they all label us, they stereotype us, we are not terrorists. You are trying to engage with us because you think we are all “terrorists’’ and that is a very valid point. This caused a lot of issues because the police was getting very friendly with the Muslim community and wanted to speak to them on the terrorist issue and the community could not get worked out. They would go like, “You just speak to us, are you spying on us?!’’ So eventually we had to stop. This engagement thing, the police got to do it, but we recognize that the police are the police. And the police would therefore do their job. They will engage with those communities when there is intelligence to say that there is a particular risk or an issue. The rest of that engagement could be done by other government departments and the police just concentrate on disrupting and preventing the terrorism, the crime. So let’s stop messing around, stop trying to pretend we are engaging just for any reason so police will go out to do their job which is preventing a crime.  And sometimes when they prevent crime, they need to be quite robust, so they separated out the roles a little bit, [as well as] the engagement and policing to make it far clearer who is doing what.

          How did you start engaging women in countering terrorism in the UK? How did the Shanaz project come out of it?

          The police commissioned research in 2011 to understand why women were not engaged in policy making, particularly on counterterrorism in the UK. There were some key issues that come out of that research. So my department [the Office of the National Coordinator of Prevent] decided to build a network of Muslim female opinion formers, key people that can build a network of female policy advisors across the country. This was to help us to get our policy right, particularly with regard to countering terrorism. A female officer was given that job and basically she networked people across the country and built this huge organization which is called Shanaz.

          The Shanaz was about the focus on the role of women in Prevent strategy. How do we engage women on these very sensitive issues? That was some of the drive and fall back. That is why we set up Shanez. It was badged on the counterterrorism, so it was no misunderstanding. The role of women is utterly to have them as key influences in the communities to ensure that what we are doing is right.

          The project was designed for people all over different regions of the country. They come together and discuss policing policy and strategy and inform the government.

          The government approved it, supported it, and funded it. And it proved to be quite successful in terms of giving us an opportunity to when we have a new piece of policy or project, or, if we need advice on something outside the police, we can go to them and ask what the Muslim female perspective on this is. 

          How did you manage the Shanaz project? Were there any obstacles you had to face during conducting it?

          The project lasted until the end of 2013. There was money to support the group, attend meetings, hold conferences, and make group functions then the money disappeared. Money was not that important because we had a local context and they were meant to be working locally to develop their own network beneath them, so we had this bottom up feeding into the top. Because the police organized this group and the police did all the administration, because the police said “We have set you up now you can run by yourself. You can do your own administration. You can organize yourself.” And then the police withdrew. That is when the problems started. The net began to cause some tensions, fractions, and the main body fell apart. However, on the local level, there were still ground networks, women feeding into local police officers, but there was not a big top-coordination.

          What was the result of the project?

          We had more dialogue. We had the publicity that the police were working proactively with Muslim women within the community. We wanted to hear their voice, their opinions. That publicity machine pushed that out and it was a two-way dialogue and involvement. But I suppose a tangible output is hard to say.

          What are the highlights of the project? What are the lessons learned?

          I think one of the things the research highlighted for us is that we tend to engage with women only when we need to engage. We don’t do it long term on the basis of unequal partnership. The police turn up and ask “I want to deal with someone!” when they want to deal with them, not any other time.

          We were criticized for just only picking up the phone, only when we wanted to discuss, not when the community wanted to discuss. So we need to build this long term relationship. One of the key things was the importance of building up the same teams, the same officers using the same groups, and that is sometimes hard to achieve. We tried to get solid long-term relationships with a group of officers who the people could go to discuss issues. It might get some values to that instead of ad hoc relationships between the police and the community.

          Relevant background resources on the topic:

        • Tags: terrorism, community police, gender and security, gender perspective, interview, Aurelija Djan
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