Nasreen Suleaman, BBC News, Jan. 24, 2007
The police are considering proposals to share intelligence and information with Muslims before launching anti-terror operations.
The plans, announced by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, are part of a wider vision to engage more with British Muslims whose support police need in fighting terrorism.
At a conference on Islamophobia, Sir Ian told his largely Muslim audience that combating the threat of extremism and terrorism was something his officers could not do alone.
“It will not be the police and intelligence services that defeat terrorism, it will be communities,” he said.
“The most single important component in the domestic defeat of terror in the next decade is the ability of the police to work with communities to do just that.”
But how easy is that going to be?
A few months after the 7 July attacks, when four British Muslim men killed 52 people in a series of suicide bombings, a senior police officer told me that in the aftermath of the tragic attack the police could ask for whatever help they wanted and Muslims were quick to respond.
That willingness to assist, he said, had since been eroded.
His comments came before the shooting of a man during an anti-terror raid in east London.
That incident further fractured relations between the police and Muslims with the latter angry — not only with the shooting — but what they saw as heavy-handed police tactics.
As a measure of their seriousness, the police have just appointed a full-time officer to lead their work on community engagement.
Commander Richard Gargini has been in the police service since 1976 and has extensive experience in dealing with high-risk police operations dealing with murder and other serious crime.
But this job could be his most challenging yet.
In his first interview since his appointment, Mr Gargini explained what he intends to do to heal the rift and restore trust.
He says that the next 12 months will be crucial in broadening and strengthening the links with Muslim communities.
One of his key tasks, and perhaps a controversial one, is to develop a policy whereby Muslims will be consulted before an anti-terror raid happens.
“What we intend to do is invite selected, influential leaders from the Muslim community to come in and assist us when we are planning and dealing with new information — this has worked extremely well in the black community and the shootings that have taken place amongst black men,” he said.
Mr Gargini is referring to Operation Trident, where police tackle gun crime and violence amongst London’s African-Caribbean community.
“Certainly when I was investigating crimes in those communities I could not have done it unless I had the support of community members. It is important and I have personal evidence of that actually working,” he said.
Commander Gargini says, under their proposals, in some cases police would share intelligence with some local people and, if necessary, consult them on anti-terror raids in their area.
He would not be drawn on what police might have done differently in the Forest Gate shooting, if they had operated under this proposed guideline.
But they hope what will happen is that the people they consult will act as spokespeople, to reassure the rest of their community that police action is proportionate and justified.
There are many pitfalls to this plan not least the accusation, perhaps from fellow police officers, that this is interference in police work.
Mr Gargini says it is a valid point but adds: “What actually matters here are the outcomes and if it delivers a safer community that is the best outcome for everyone”.
As for what happens if the advice they are given contradicts or conflicts with how the police eventually proceed — he says that they would not necessarily take the advice.
“If we did on occasion say ‘thank you but we do not think that is likely to happen’ that would be our responsibility not that of the person who came into assist us. So we would control and be fully accountable,” he said.
(Posted on January 25, 2007)
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