ARLINGTON, Va. – Strategies for fighting terrorism can be found in Boston’s successful gang-prevention efforts and in the resolution of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole said today.
“Whether Republican dissidents in Northern Ireland, gang members in Boston or LA, or young Muslims facing poverty or prejudice in the UK, many of them are totally disaffected. We need to identify the most vulnerable and engage with them,” she said.
O'Toole, who has been chief inspector of Ireland’s national police since 2006, talked about lessons from Boston in her address to a gathering of intelligence analysts and others who use sophisticated data analysis software to track criminals and terrorists.
She described how gang violence in Boston plunged during the 1990s after the department shifted strategies from reacting to crime to engaging with the community in prevention efforts – a strategy that she said should be applied to steering impressionable young Muslims away from extremism. The decline in gang violence known as the “Boston Miracle” predated O’Toole’s tenure as commissioner, which lasted from 2004 through mid-2006.
Criminals and terrorists, like violent sectarians in Northern Ireland, have deprivation, poverty, and alienation in common – all factors which can lead to extremism and violence, she said.
Uprooting terrorism will take far more than simply engaging youth, and “we need to be tough – that’s for sure,” she said. But the war on terror will fail, she cautioned, if it doesn’t use a “holistic” strategy that includes efforts to dissuade radicalism.
“There’s no silver bullet here, but the bottom line is that enforcement alone will not work. There’s a lot to be gained by engaging with people to the greatest extent possible,” she said.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.