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Director's Message: Countering Violent Extremism with Research


At NIJ, we are dedicated to conducting and applying research in our efforts to find solutions to criminal justice problems. A great example of that dedication is exhibited in our robust research portfolio on domestic radicalization and countering violent extremism (CVE). NIJ has invested in almost two dozen research projects that aim to 1) understand how and why individuals radicalize to violence and 2) identify promising practices for prevention and intervention.

I am excited that we are hosting a “Research for the Real World” seminar on March 7 to share some of the findings from our CVE portfolio. We are bringing together three internationally renowned experts from the practitioner and academic arenas to share their data and discuss how research can be used in the task of preventing radicalization to violence.    

  • Dr. John Horgan, a professor at Georgia State University and principle investigator for an evaluation of the Montgomery County, Maryland, World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) model, will discuss findings about the efficacy of a multi-stakeholder, locally driven education and prevention program to build resilience against violent extremism.   
  • David Schanzer, a professor at Duke University, will discuss the results of his recently-completed research on how community policing strategies can prevent violent extremism. His focus has been on American Muslim communities.
  • Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the Los Angeles Police Department will discuss the ways the LAPD has leveraged outreach and engagement as tools in that city’s efforts to reduce extremism.  

In 2011, the national strategy, Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, stated that “the best defense against violent extremist ideologies are well-informed and equipped families, local communities, and local institutions.” The problem, however, is a lack of sufficient evidence about how best to equip communities to respond to the threat of violent extremism. That is what NIJ’s portfolio is building and what our seminar speakers will discuss. 

The seminar will be webcast live on March 7 from 1–2:30 pm EST and archived approximately two weeks later. Subscribe to receive notices of NIJ’s future upcoming events, including a notice when the archived webcast is available.

John Horgan’s evaluation showed that Montgomery County’s programming had intended effects on 12 of 15 outcomes and — just as importantly — had no unintended effects. The team also found consensus that an individual’s peers are best positioned to notice and identify early warning signs that an individual may be radicalizing to violent extremism. Although these “peer gatekeepers” tended to fear damaging their peer relationships and seemed least willing to reach out to law enforcement (when compared to other modes of intervention), they also tended to be most willing to intervene in general. This is a very promising finding. It means there is great potential for community-led, trained peer gatekeepers to have positive impacts on individuals early in the process of radicalizing to violent extremism.

David Schanzer and his colleagues based their report on surveys of police chiefs and hundreds of interviews with officers and American Muslims. Results showed that building trust between police and communities is one of the best ways to prevent violent extremist attacks, but that building trust with American Muslims has become especially challenging since 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. They conclude their report with a number of recommendations.

Deputy Chief Michael Downing has an amazing background in counterterrorism at the local level, but also well beyond Los Angeles. He has testified before Congress, provided guidance to the Department of Homeland Security, and worked with a number of countries as they transitioned their large national police organizations into democratic civilian policing models and overlayed counterterrorism enterprises on top of their infrastructure. He will provide the “real-world” perspective that is key to applied research efforts like those in NIJ’s CVE portfolio.

Extreme violence based on ideology is one of the most complex issues facing our nation. There is no greater asset in a community’s fight against radicalization to violent extremism than the community itself. I hope you will join us in learning more about the mechanisms that lead to extremism and the tactics that work best to intervene and prevent it.