The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 2 | February 2008

Community Partnerships: A Key Ingredient in an Effective Homeland Security Approach

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 brought about enhancements to many existing law enforcement approaches in an effort to prevent another attack. As we learn more about the threats we face, and our ability to repel those threats, it is increasingly evident that the benefits of community policing demand that it become fundamental to any effective homeland security strategy.

Community policing comprises three primary elements, two of which are problem-solving to reduce crime and disorder by addressing their immediate underlying conditions, and implementing associated organizational changes to help ensure that the community policing philosophy can be successfully implemented, sustained, and institutionalized. It is the third element—partnerships—that perhaps best positions law enforcement to protect communities from the threat of terrorism. By engaging important and relevant stakeholders in the community who have tremendous knowledge, resources, and a capacity to collaborate on issues of shared concern, law enforcement can improve responses to problems, reduce citizen fear and concern, and increase the overall satisfaction with police services.

The Value of Partnerships to Homeland Security

Partnerships with the community are integral to any crime-prevention effort and, in many respects, terrorism can be understood and addressed in terms of other crime threats. Just as state and local law enforcement entities serve as partners with their federal counterparts and “are now a critical component of our Nation’s security capability as both ‘first preventers’ and ‘first responders’”1, so too, do law enforcement partnerships with the community hold tremendous potential for thwarting acts of terrorism. Partnerships help to create trust and improve lines of communication between the police and the community.

Under a community policing approach, the community can become eyes and ears for the police, reporting suspicious behavior and notifying the authorities when something seems amiss. Just as street-level knowledge is important to breaking up narcotics activities in a neighborhood, community partnerships and trusting relationships will inspire the confidence of citizens to pass along information that can help to uncover terrorist individuals or cells. Both here and abroad, those who have first-hand experience preventing terrorism incidents enthusiastically promote the importance of community partnerships to defeat terrorism. “It is not the police and the intelligence services who will defeat terrorism,” according to Sir Ian Blair, the commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Service. “It is communities who defeat terrorism.2” Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey testified to Congress that “only an effective local police establishment that has the confidence of citizens is going to be likely to hear from, say, a local merchant in a part of town containing a number of new immigrants that a group of young men from abroad have recently moved into a nearby apartment and are acting suspiciously. Local police are best equipped to understand how to protect citizens’ liberties and obtain such leads legally.3

Examples of the value of strong community partnerships have been widely reported. In London, England, a strong, strange odor drifting from a flat and the strange group of visitors to the premises caused a London grandmother to report this activity to authorities, which helped to unravel a terror cell planning a poison gas attack. And in New York City, a resident who worked at an Islamic bookstore located next to one of the city’s largest mosques so concerned local residents with his inflammatory anti-American rhetoric that the New York City Police Department tip line received a number of calls about his behavior. A subsequent investigation revealed plans to attack the Herald Square subway station around the time of the 2004 Republican National Convention.4

Partnerships with Immigrant Communities

While most police agencies have established many valuable community partnerships, they may be with specific segments of the community who are accustomed to working with law enforcement. Other communities, however, may not have experience cooperating with police authorities. Some may be reticent to cooperate given their cultural experiences of, and history with, police in their country of origin. Other factors may lead to their hesitation to work with the police, including language barriers, immigration status, and a general mistrust of their local police because of misperception and reputation. Yet these groups may be just the ones who are in the best position to provide information that could lead to the prevention of a terror attack because they often possess information that is unknown outside of what are often insular communities; information that could relate to impending threats before that information would come to the attention of others. To develop and maintain these open lines of communication, diligent, determined, and ongoing efforts are required by all sides. An understanding of, and sensitivity to, different religious and cultural values on the part of the police is also essential.

One final note relates to information gathering by law enforcement and the privacy concerns it raises among some in the community. It is important that law enforcement, especially at the local level, understand these concerns as legitimate even as they work to allay them. Being clear about the safeguards and oversight that exist to protect individual rights and liberties, and acting in a deliberate and transparent way about how and why information is gathered and used, can demonstrate that these are both effective and lawful police activities. Moreover, conveying that these activities actually support other efforts to reduce crime and disorder by helping the police to better understand and prioritize community crime issues and to respond accordingly, can be compelling and convincing to citizens. Better information and stronger partnerships should result in improved citizen satisfaction with police services and reduced levels of fear about crime and disorder—the ultimate win-win situation.

Other Community Partnerships

While numerous potential partners exist, one community in particular that holds much potential are the professionals included under the umbrella of private security. The private securityprofession is extremely diverse, covering everything from armored guard services, to uniformed security, to corporate security departments, to facility security professionals. They often possess immense technology, skills, and extensive law enforcement and security experience. Additionally, by virtue of their unique responsibilities, they can serve as invaluable partners in the effort to secure communities and public and private assets. By some estimates, private security provides direct oversight of around 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Moreover, they outnumber their public sector counterparts by nearly 2 ˝ to 1.5 Their access to both street-level knowledge and state-of-the-art security technology renders them an important—yet largely untapped—community partner.


A number of specific and tailored federal, state, and local law enforcement strategies have been developed and refined in the years since 9/11. Each brings value in very specific ways to an overall community safety and homeland security strategy. There is value, though, in involving the community as partners in all crime-prevention efforts, including strategies related to homeland security. Community policing strategies, and the development of strong partnerships with the community in particular, offer perhaps the most promise to ensure that the events of 9/11 are not repeated.

The COPS Office offers a number of resources for anyone who would like more information on how to develop productive and meaningful partnerships in support of homeland security efforts. They include the following:

The COPS Collaboration Toolkit: How to Build, Fix, and Sustain Productive Partnerships. and CD-ROM.

National Policy Summit: Building Private Security/Public Policing Partnerships to Prevent and Respond to Terrorism and Public Disorder.

Protecting Your Community from Terrorism Volume 2: Working with Diverse Communities.

Protecting Your Community from Terrorism Volume 5: Partnerships to Promote Homeland Security.

Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems.

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