17 November 2017

Antidote to Community Fear

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We live in a globally connected world where extremism, in many forms (ideological, political, economic, social, and personal) is a constant threat to community safety.  This is why community safety is a key priority for all levels of Government, especially when major public events occur, such as the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, the Australia Open in Melbourne, and so on.  All forms of contemporary extremism begin with extreme views by people who, in the main, fall within the bell curve of psychologically ‘normal’ individuals.  This profile fits for right & left wing extremists, Jihadists, militants, activists, fanatics, zealots, fixated persons, active shooters, and cyber terrorists.

This ‘alarming normal’ profile presents a major difficulty when seeking to counter extremism in that holding ‘extreme views’ (cognitive radicalisation) does not automatically lead to ‘extreme actions’ (behavioural radicalisation).  There are multiple and complex factors dynamically at play which push ‘talkers’ towards becoming ‘doers’ of extreme violence.   Hence, to counter ‘extreme views’ that may lead to violent actions at public places and/or major events requires following a methodology  I designed as a 4D matrix for community security & safety.  It is illustrated in the figure below.
 As can be seen, security & safety are two sides of the same community coin.  The 1st and 2nd boxes deal with ‘Defining & Detecting’ the types of extremism and extremists you are interested in finding out more on from a ‘Security’ point of view.  The 3rd and 4th boxes are all about ‘Designing & Deploying’ appropriate strategies and staff (paid and volunteers) to monitor, report on, and take action, if necessary, at public events and public places where an emergent community threat is potentially possible.  This is the ‘Safety’ side of the matrix.  It is these ‘Safety’ dimensions of Design & Deploy which I wish to focus on for this rest of the article.
Of course, operationalising this 4D matrix is neither easy nor cheap.  The resourcing implications of trying to cover all this ground will break the piggy bank of most Governments, or at least put a serious financial hole in their budget.   However, if Governments fail to lead the way in mobilising community safety then the greater risk will be vigilante-style groups popping up in the community to take matters into their own hands.  This is a now an emerging trend in many Western democracies where ‘alarmingly normal’ citizens become engaged in sectarian hate groups against others they perceive as threats to their community.

How to best mobilise community resources is the key question?   Especially, since we all know that the safety of the community cannot be solely left to police and security agencies.  There will never be enough police officers and security personal on the streets, in shopping centres, parks, bikeways and beaches to observe and respond to the new and emerging threats. For instance, improvised and low cost weapons that can severely injure, mutilate, and kill scores of innocent people, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.     

One potential way Governments can harness and steer community anxiety about extremist threats in a proactive and productive manner is through funding a broad range of small scale, grassroots community groups through a community-based network mechanism I designed called the ‘Safety Alert Volunteer Enterprise’ (SAVE).  My concept of SAVE is that of a self-evolving grassroots interconnected network of self-directed suburban neighbourhoods clustered around local Safety Alert Volunteer (SAV) teams dedicated to community safety for everyone in  their  geographical region.  This vision of SAVE builds on the notion of ‘citizen volunteerism’ which is a well-established principle in the Australian community as it is in many countries around the world.  For instance, many community-based organisations, supported by Government assistance, such as Crime Stoppers, Neighbourhood Watch, Surf Lifesavers, Lions Club and many others rely on volunteers donating their time, talents, and energy to provide various forms of much needed community service.

The mission of SAVE is to equip community members with established principles and protocols of situational awareness training to enhance their community vigilance and timely response notification capacity to assist police, security and emergency management agencies with emerging and imminent safety threats within their local community at public places and with planned public events.

To conclude, ‘SAVE’ proofing a community is best done by communities themselves.  This can be achieved by communities forming ‘community safety clusters’ of 3 to 5 geographically local suburban neighbourhoods connected to and supported, in an training and advisory capacity only, by an umbrella SAVE network.  Each of these community safety cluster’s would maintain their independent, self-evolving nature to decide what works best for them in the particular circumstances, conditions and constraints of their local community region.  Communities just need minimal funding from Government to equip them with the knowledge and skills of SAV training to kick start their community looking out for and taking care of one another’s safety, by themselves and for themselves.   

 SAVE is a community enterprise open to anyone who wishes to participate as a Safety Alert Volunteer (SAV).  Members of the community in any geographical location in Australia can register, via email, their interest in becoming a volunteer in the SAVE network (safetyalertvolunteers@gmail.com ).

Guest blog written by: Dr Geoff Dean

Dr. Geoff Dean is CEO of the Safety Alert Volunteer Enterprise (SAVE) & Managing Director of the company Violence Prevention Consulting as well as Adjunct Professor at the Griffith Criminology Institute (GCI) and the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. He is an international peer reviewer and guest editor for several prestigious journals, publishes extensively, and consults globally with police and security organisations.

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