Research calls for counter-terrorism police officers to be more accountable

Posted on Tuesday 12th April 2011
Basia Spalek and Laura McDonald

Dr Basia Spalek and Dr Laura Zahra McDonald

A new study exploring the partnership between counter-terrorism police and Muslim communities argues that police need to improve information sharing and transparency if they are to build trust and support.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Social Studies stress the importance of establishing good relationships between the police and local community members and note that overt information-sharing is a good way of creating trust. The study suggests that officers should be open about the nature of their role as counter-terrorism officers and calls on police to examine the extent to which policing efforts are community focused or targeted. 

The research conducted by Dr Basia Spalek and Dr Laura Zahra McDonald from the University of Birmingham, with Dr Salwa El-Awa from Ain Shams University, Cairo, explores the prevention of violent extremism amongst Muslim youth. The team interviewed individuals, police officers and stakeholders closely involved or affected by counter-terrorism policing to explore the engagement between community members and the police.

The study argues that building trust and accountability is crucial in developing successful strategies to tackle violent extremism whilst police officers are currently engaged in a steep learning curve about how best to divulge information to communities. The report highlights that this can be a particular challenge in areas deemed at high risk of violent extremism. Here there is often a tension for community members who may be working with police officers, whilst also believing that they are subject to covert observation. 

Lead researcher of the independent study, Dr Spalek, Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Social Studies explains:

“Since 7/7, the role of communities in helping to defeat terrorism has been of growing interest to policy makers. Increasingly, police officers have been overtly engaging with community members for the purposes of counter-terrorism, drawing upon community policing models.

“This is an emerging policy area and this study sheds new light upon questions of what is effective engagement. Could the authorities obtain information through building trust rather than covert policing, which tends to damage community relations? The fact is that despite the efforts of police and policy makers there is still more work to be done in building trust between communities and police. 

“Counter-terrorism presents challenges that are not necessarily as strongly present in other areas of policing and we hope that this research can contribute to nation state and community security, helping to prevent acts of terrorism.”

Dr McDonald adds:

“For young people, the impact of counter-terrorism practices can be particularly acute, and this experience must be understood and taken into account when developing approaches to preventing violent extremisms.”

The research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council’s Religion and Society Programme.

For more information, please contact Dr Basia Spalek via 0121 415 8027 or b.spalek@bham.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors

The paper, ‘Preventing Religio-Political Extremism Amongst Muslim Youth: A study exploring police-community partnership’ can be viewed at the following link: http://www.iass.bham.ac.uk/documents/preventing-religio-political-extremism-spalek-april2011.pdf.

For further media information, please contact Amy Cory, University of Birmingham Press Office, via 0121 414 6029 or a.cory@bham.ac.uk.