Extremism: Can targeted violence prevention programs work locally?

An evaluation and tabletop exercises of LA’s primary public health and public safety efforts to reduce violent extremism explored the basic steps and gaps cities may encounter in establishing secondary prevention programs


What can a city do to disengage individuals involved in violent extremism and domestic terror groups? According to an evaluation of primary prevention by the city of Los Angeles and stakeholder agencies funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Science and Technology Directorate, cities and their public safety and public health partners can establish secondary prevention programs to reduce incidents of violent extremism, including domestic terrorism.

The overall goals of secondary prevention program are:

  • Decrease individuals’ violent behaviors
  • Decrease individuals’ risk factors associated with violence and violent extremism
  • Promote positive alternatives to violence, such as positive lifestyle changes and increased civic engagement
  • Increase access to mental health and social services for those who could potentially benefit from such services

Evaluating LA’s Framework for Countering Violent Extremism

In 2015, Los Angeles Interagency Coordination Group (ICG), formed previously by the region’s law enforcement organizations to coordinate outreach, improve trust-building, raise awareness and share best practices in community engagement, and community stakeholders developed the “Los Angeles Framework for Countering Violent Extremism” (LA Framework).

The framework offered a model of prevention, intervention and interdiction, according to ICG. DHS then wanted to evaluate the program.

For the 2016 study, public health professionals from the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Psychiatry and the University of California Los Angeles Center for Public Health and Disasters conducted an independent and external evaluation of initiatives by the city of Los Angeles in order to help understand, plan and assess its programs to address all forms of violent extremism.

The committee concluded that the most promising path to “feasible, effective and sustainable intervention” was to use the city’s existing public health and mental health services, including the Los Angeles Country Department of Mental Health School Threat Assessment and Response Team (START). That program could provide a basis for expanding targeted violence secondary prevention, according to the evaluation.

There are four basic steps of secondary prevention:

  • Community partners make referrals
  • Threats are assessed and “off-ramp services plans” are created
  • Treatment is delivered to at-risk individuals
  • Safety plans are developed

After conducting tabletop exercises (one for foreign actors and the other for domestic terrorists) in July 2016 in Orange County, California, at the DHS Office for Community Partnerships, the team found five main gaps cities may encounter in establishing secondary prevention programs:

  1. Cultural competency of mental health professionals
  2. Uncertainty about the use of measures and tools
  3. Challenges in making referrals
  4. Activating and coordinating community leaders and organizations
  5. Monitoring and responding to media

While the evaluation started with a focus on ICG’s primary prevention work, stakeholders recognized a need to build secondary prevention in line with building “off-ramps” concept, according to the report.

Review and download the report:

862 OPSR TP LA-Formative-Evaluation 180817-508 by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

Learn more about the Developing Local Terrorism Prevention Capabilities on the DHS website.

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.