The Building Communities of Trust (BCOT) Initiative
The following is information obtained from the article BCOT Guidance for Community Leaders located in the International Association of Chiefs of Police website.
Law enforcement agencies have long recognized the need to develop trusting relationships with the communities they serve. The Building Communities of Trust (BCOT) initiative is designed to help develop these trusting relationships by bringing together local law enforcement leaders, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, fusion centers, and community representatives to engage in open dialogue about how these groups can work together to help protect our communities against crime and terrorism. A particular focus has been working with immigrant and minority communities that have historically had negative or distrusting relationships with law enforcement, making it especially important to help these communities address any concerns the community members may have with law enforcement, so that everyone can work together to prevent criminal and terrorist activity.
Information garnered from community members may provide key information to facilitate the prevention of a potential attack, and residents are more likely to report this activity to law enforcement if there is a positive, trustworthy relationship in place. One of the foundations of the BCOT initiative is making sure communities understand that law enforcement agencies will do what is right with the information provided to them and will protect the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the people they serve. As these relationships continue to develop over time, law enforcement agencies will learn more about the community, making it possible for officers and analysts to more accurately distinguish between innocent behaviors and behaviors that show signs of criminal activity that could be indicative of terrorism.
Gangs, guns, violence, and other crimes affect communities daily. Likewise, terrorism or the threat of terrorism affects us all. While terrorist acts that occur within the United States may have national or even international impact, they are essentially local crimes that require the immediate response of state, local, tribal, or territorial (SLTT) authorities. Local authorities have the primary responsibility for preventing, responding to, and recovering from terrorist attacks and providing support to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which takes the lead in investigating terrorism cases. Because of the nature of their jobs, SLTT law enforcement officers have the ability to develop an intimate knowledge of their communities through daily efforts to prevent crime and violence. These close relationships with the residents they serve make law enforcement uniquely situated to identify, investigate, and apprehend suspected terrorists.
Members of the community also observe suspicious activity relating to crime and terrorism in their neighborhoods, and since residents typically know their neighborhoods best, they are more likely to notice when something seems out of place. Some suspicious activity, such as attempting to enter a restricted area, may be easy to identify, since trespassing is a criminal act. In other instances, activity which might not seem significant, for instance, taking a picture of a ferry during loading, may indicate the possibility of criminal—even terrorist—activity, irrespective of perceived ethnicity or religion, when combined with other actions and activity. Observed activities may turn out to have innocent and reasonable explanations, which is why law enforcement officers and analysts are trained to determine whether activities necessitate police investigation.
In today’s policing, “connecting the dots” of suspicious activity before an incident occurs is an important job for America’s law enforcement agencies, from the officer on the street to intelligence analysts.
The Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) was created to assist law enforcement in making the connection between reported suspicious behaviors and terrorist activity by providing a capacity for gathering, documenting, processing, analyzing, and sharing suspicious activity reports that have a potential connection to terrorism. The NSI process provides a way for collecting such information in a manner that protects privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, and links the suspicious behavior with other circumstances which may indicate terrorist or other criminal activity. This process includes local law enforcement agencies maintaining control over information collection, sharing, analysis, and reporting to be in line with local privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties standards and policies. It is also designed to include full transparency of process, adherence to standards, and the implementation of audit and redress capabilities.
State and major urban area fusion centers are an important part of the NSI. Fusion centers effectively and efficiently exchange information, maximize resources, strengthen operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a variety of sources. These fusion centers located in state and major urban areas across the country are not investigative agencies; rather, they are analytical entities composed of SLTT law enforcement and federal representatives, as well as other homeland security partners. One of the common goals of fusion centers is to identify risks to community safety through criminal and homeland security-related information sharing and collaboration. Fusion centers receive, analyze, and distribute all-threats and all-crimes information and supplement the work of more than 800,000 law enforcement officers while serving as a primary focal point through which the federal government works with SLTT agencies to protect the nation from terrorism and other threats or hazards. Fusion centers provide significant value to crime and terrorism prevention by conducting analysis on what information might mean for a local jurisdiction and assessing potential risk to the community. Among other guidelines, fusion centers are expected to meet specific minimum capabilities to ensure that they protect data and adequately address privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protections; security policies; and related issues.