NJ officials forming community teams to help spot would-be terrorists
The state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness is working with the FBI on a preliminary plan to form community “teams” consisting of religious, social service and mental health professionals and other local leaders who would help to identify troubled individuals who might pose a terrorist threat.
The teams would try to get counseling for these people, and steer them away from being “radicalized” by groups like ISIS, and then communicate with law enforcement if they felt someone posed a threat and additional action was necessary.
According to state Homeland Security Director Chris Rodriguez, the idea is to work collaboratively with community leaders “and with local residents and to become engaged with them to work with them to possibly look for any signs of violence or terrorist behavior that might be emanating within their communities, and then offering them tools and counseling really to try to mitigate those threats.”
In other words, try to head off a problem before it takes shape.
“I think these types of programs are absolutely essential to identify people who might at risk for violence or be susceptible to violent messaging,” he said.
Rodriguez stressed the idea of fostering partnerships between communities and law enforcement is not exactly new in the Garden State.
“My office has a lot of relationships with faith based leaders throughout the state,” he said. “My office chairs an inter-faith advisory council which meets on a quarterly basis, which has representatives and leaders from the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the Sikh community and the Christian community.”
He said in this post 9/11 world having dialogue on a regular basis is very important.
“We live right now in a very decentralized and diffuse threat environment, and homegrown violent extremism is very difficult for law enforcement to detect and deter. Oftentimes the public is our first line of defense, so the greater relationships we can build with the communities, I think the more resilient we’ll be,” he said.
He indicated these community teams would operate in towns all over New Jersey, not just in Muslim communities.
Rodriguez also said we need to ensure “that first of all people are talking and they’re expressing viewpoints and beliefs, and that we can talk through some problems that might arise.”
He also pointed out law enforcement understands the vast majority of Jersey residents in all different communities are not would-be terrorists who pose a terror threat. But sometimes, residents of certain communities don’t trust law enforcement.
“It’s important for us as a law-enforcement homeland security enterprise to get out that message and to break down what I think are misperceptions that exist,” he said. “In some cases community leaders are uncomfortable about working with law enforcement, but once we sit down and we present what we can offer to the communities, we do find people who did have those misperceptions about law enforcement often will become our best partners.”
He indicated there have only been general discussions so far, and there is no specific plan yet on how community teams would be formed, and when exactly the program would be launched, but it could possibly begin at the end of this year.