Security in Diversity: Cooperating with Diverse Populations in Homeland Security

By CTU Faculty

CTU is presenting a blog series from faculty in various program areas to highlight the importance of understanding diversity. Here, Dr. Nadav Morag shares about developing rapport with diverse communities toward the efforts of protecting our country.

CTU Business Degree - Security in DiversityAs in many other facets of American life, professionals working in the homeland security field must be greatly aware of cultural, ethnic, religious and other types of diversity. Homeland security comprises a range of fields including law enforcement, emergency services, public health, transportation and border security, critical infrastructure protection and more. Consequently, there are countless examples of the need for both understanding and cooperating with diverse populations in the execution of homeland security policies.

Relying on Each Other

In the world of counterterrorism, authorities work to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks, all of which are of critical importance because it is impossible to guarantee complete security from terrorist attacks.  While efficient response and recovery efforts are essential, it is clearly preferable to mitigate attacks rather than have to deal with their aftermath.

Preventing terrorist attacks is, first and foremost, a matter of gathering intelligence on suspects and trying to obtain enough evidence of criminal activity to arrest individuals before they carry out their malicious plans. While the FBI is the nation’s lead agency for counterterrorism investigations, given that they only have approximately 12,000 field personnel, they’re unlikely to have a significant presence in communities where terrorists operate.

The FBI relies heavily on local law enforcement agencies to provide it with information. As a visible, daily presence in communities around the country, local law enforcement has a much larger footprint within a community. However, local law enforcement usually only discover terrorist activity when tipped off by residents of the community.

Convincing people to voluntarily air their suspicions about other members of their community, however, often requires building a relationship of trust. If law enforcement authorities are viewed as threatening, untrustworthy or uninterested in the needs of a particular community, they will receive little helpful information and this can make them largely ineffective in uncovering terrorist plots before they become actual attacks.

A Matter of Trust

Developing rapport with a community requires understanding its culture, language, religious and other practices, needs and areas of concern. Some immigrant communities, for example, include members who either don’t speak or have trouble with English. As a result, law enforcement agencies need the capacity to communicate in multiple languages and this can be a good starting point in developing cooperative relationships with diverse communities.

Some immigrants come from countries where the police are seen as corrupt and even predatory toward the members of the community they supposedly serve. To these individuals and in these communities, the police are feared as much as, if not more than, criminals. Consequently our nation’s law enforcement must work hard to show all communities that our police truly operate under the rule of law. Other communities may have strict mores regarding the manner of communication and even physical proximity between men and women. Not taking these kinds of sensibilities into account can result in a community feeling alienated in a community feeling alienated and lead to reticence in cooperating with law enforcement personnel.

Understanding a community’s basic religious beliefs and other practices helps build trusting relationships. Such an understanding of religious beliefs shows members that authorities are respectful of their values. Building these bridges to communities requires a high degree of sensitivity with respect to diversity which pays off by making it possible for the community to act as an important resource to the authorities.

When Disaster Strikes

Community cooperation and support are integral in response efforts when natural disasters occur as well. As with intelligence-gathering, disaster planning requires community engagement. First responder agencies and other support entities that deploy in the wake of natural disasters have limited resources. Such personnel can’t be everywhere to provide support to those communities impacted by floods, wildfires, earthquakes or other disasters. Homeland security agents must make efforts ahead of disasters to educate and prepare communities to be prepared for and more effectively respond to natural disasters.

Differences Matter

Successfully educating the population in general calls for providing instructional literature a language that each community understands, particularly in the case of immigrant communities. Homeland security professionals must also specially support the needs of mentally and physically challenged individuals that they may encounter during rescue operations.

As these examples suggest, comprehensive understanding of diverse cultural differences and needs is important in being able to conduct effective homeland security activities. Ultimately, the objectives of homeland security strategies and policies are to make the country and its constituent communities safer and more resilient. This requires engaging with diverse communities across linguistic, cultural, and other divides. The diversity that authorities encounter daily has made the United States a rich, cultural mosaic and fountain of innovative ideas, and that’s exactly why homeland security professionals should embrace diversity.

Image credit: Flickr/ToGa Wanderings