More Domestic COIN

Two more COIN-as-domestic-policing stories of note: The Naval Postgraduate School will be advising Salinas in that city’s anti-gang campaign (via Andrew Exum); and thanks to a combination of tough policing and community organizing, Compton is no longer the Capital CPT (via Matthew Yglesias). The former reinforces my suspicions that the military approach to counterinsurgency will find a sympathetic domestic law enforcement audience. The latter tempers the perceived threat by illustrating the ways in which the “smart power” approach to gangs and organized crime had already been formulated and applied before our current wars of counterinsurgency.

In fact, back in 1997, I worked as a gang intervention counselor in Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA, in a pilot program that integrated a counseling component into the county’s juvenile probation approach. Santa Cruz being Santa Cruz — meaning Zen rock gardens in every office cubicle and Native American prayer wheels on every rearview mirror — there was a lot of talk about designing a culturally sensitive and enlightened approach. But the program’s primary goal was to cut costs by using supported probation in place of more expensive, budget-busting Juvenile Hall lockups. The counselors basically functioned as good cop to the Juvenile Probation Dept.’s bad cop. (Suffice it to say that I was pretty cynical at the time.)

Anyway, at one of the first team meetings, I remember arguing that unless we provided the kids with meaningful options, including jobs and credible chances of self-advancement, we wouldn’t have much of a chance competing for hearts and minds with the Thug Life, which for all its risks offered at least the possibility of immediate and lucrative payoffs. (Seriously, one of the 14-year-olds I worked with once offered to drive us to the pool hall that I used for counseling sessions, because he was embarrassed to be seen in my ’72 Dodge Dart.) In addition to mentor programs and paid apprenticeships, I proposed integrating the kids into a paid neighborhood watch to increase their sense of responsibility towards the community. Needless to say, my Sons of Santa Cruz idea got laughed out of the room, but it turns out I was simply ahead of the curve, and was planting the intellectual seeds that would later bloom into the Anbar Awakening.

The key, though, is that at the time, the program was funded through the Juvenile Probation Dept., which meant the focus was on policing, with community development taking a back seat. By the time I decided to move on, we had cut costs dramatically for the Probation Dept., but had made very little impact on the broader gang problem.

The Newsweek article on Compton suggests that while some of the more controversial California law enforcement policies (“three strikes” laws and tough drug sentencing) contributed to the turnaround, they also had the unintended consequence of spreading the problem nationwide, by scattering some of the hardcore gangbangers to cities where the heat had not yet been raised. It also underlines the role played by community development, as well as that of broader societal trends that are harder to explain. The takeway, though, is that the tough security component without the reconstruction element would not have been as effective as the complementary application of both.

Clearly, the balance between security and reconstruction, whether in domestic policing or counterinsurgency, is difficult to strike. But funding streams that consistently privilege the security side of the equation don’t help. For all the attention given to the civilian component of the Obama administration’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, for instance, we’re sending about 20 times more additional troops than diplomats. It’s too early to tell how that will play out, but the numbers are less than encouraging.

Meanwhile, the ways in which ambient domestic law enforcement approachesmight have filtered into COIN doctrine would make for interestingresearch. But there’s an even more urgent need to study the ways in which COIN concepts can be applied to domestic law enforcement, because it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they will be applied. So we have an interest in making sure it’s done in ways that balance the security elements with the necessary reconstruction. And so long as this kind of examination is left to the security folks, finding that balance will be a longshot.

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