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Police forces are on the frontline in combating extremism, confronting a span of offences affected by extremist attitudes from hate incidents and online abuse of Members of Parliament through to terror attacks. The Covid-19 pandemic added a new dimension to this challenge, with the long-term implications of lockdown for radicalisation still unclear.
Crest explored how “extremism” is policed through the prisms of these different offences, identifying examples of best practice to scale up, and exploring options for reform at a national level, intended to drive a more integrated and effective policing response to a rapidly changing problem.
There is widespread consensus that extremism is a growing problem in our society, yet the evidence base around how it is policed remains sparse and under-explored. In particular, we do not fully understand the impact that recent changes in extremist methodologies and attitudes have had upon policing practice. Similarly, there is little information in the public domain to assess the effectiveness of local police forces in identifying and responding to extremism, whether online or within the community.
This programme of research investigated these questions in more depth, using a combination of statistical analysis, deliberative research and fieldwork to fill out the gaps in our knowledge. The ultimate aim was to inform the police's attempts to understand and therefore effectively respond to extremism, and to identify where new practice or tools might be required.
What did we look at?
The research was split into two phases:
Mapping the landscape: this phase involved a detailed review of the national evidence on changes in the scale and nature of extremism, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative sources of information. This review analysed trends in extremism as it presents to police. As a result, it was firstly necessary to identify what extremism means in a policing context. A series of in-depth interviews with senior practitioners from across the criminal justice system and third sector, including faith organisations, assisted in this endeavour, and helped to fill out gaps in the knowledge base. Using this review, we identified a series of research hypotheses surrounding the policing of extremism.
Engaging the frontline: these hypotheses were tested through partnerships with a range of police forces. Our work with these forces focuses on the breadth of offences (from hate crime through to terrorism), and combines analysis of local data with interviews with policing representatives from a number of different ranks. We also engaged with a range of stakeholders affected by the policing of extremism, from high-profile targets of extremist abuse through to reformed extremists and members of the public.
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