Counterterrorism Strategies


What are Counterterrorism Strategies?

What is the Evidence on Counterterrorism Strategies?

How Can Police Use the Evidence on Counterterrorism Strategies?

Police Action

Seattle Police mage courtesy of Flickr user peter.charbonnier and used under a Creative Commons license.

What are Counterterrorism Strategies?

Since September 11, 2001 preventing terrorist attacks has increasingly become a role of local law enforcement agencies, particularly those serving large urban areas. Homeland security efforts by police cover a range of activities including providing extra security and presence at vulnerable targets, investigating tips and suspicious activities, and information sharing with state and federal partners to avoid future attacks.

What is the Evidence on Counterterrorism Strategies?

Counterterrorism strategies are listed under “What do we need to know more about?” on our Review of the Research Evidence.

A Campbell Collaboration systematic review by Lum and colleagues (2005) suggested that there was very little research on counterterrorism. Despite massive federal funding to the Department of Homeland Security in the past decade, there remains a dearth of rigorous research on the effectiveness of local and federal law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism. One indicator of success, of course, is the lack of a major terrorist event on U.S. soil in the 15 years since the attacks on September 11, 2001. The rarity of terrorist attacks makes rigorous evaluation difficult.

It is also important, however, to evaluate how anti-terrorism programs may impact rates of crime and disorder. A small number of studies suggest that increased police presence due to the threat of terrorism can reduce crime. For example, Di Tella and Schargrodsky (2004) found that car theft declined on blocks where officers were assigned to guard synagogues following a terrorist attack on the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires. Similarly, Klick and Tabarrok (2005) found that crime was lower in Washington, D.C. on days with higher terrorist alerts, particularly on the National Mall where many of the monuments that could be potential terrorist targets are located. These two studies suggest that efforts to combat terrorism may have some spillover benefits on more general crime and disorder issues, but more rigorous studies in this area are needed.

How Can Police Use the Evidence on Counterterrorism Strategies?

Police, especially in major metropolitan areas or target rich environments, devote attention daily to thwarting potential terrorist activity.  Intelligence-led policing offers a framework by which the intelligence gathering and sharing that are in important part of counterterrorism efforts can be applied to crime prevention.

Intelligence-led policing is a philosophy that focuses on using criminal intelligence to systematically guide efforts to reduce and prevent crime (Carter 2009; Ratcliffe 2011). This intelligence ideally combines information on criminals (i.e., criminal intelligence) with information on crimes and criminal events (i.e., crime analysis) to generate crime intelligence that can objectively direct police resource decisions. While intelligence is commonly used by law enforcement agencies for solving particular cases or addressing particular criminal or terrorist threats, intelligence-led policing makes intelligence a key determinant for resource allocation department-wide.  The intelligence-led framework increased in popularity following September 11, because of a recognition of shortcomings in national intelligence sharing.

Intelligence gathering and analysis played a key role in a recent hot spots policing experiment in Philadelphia (Groff et al., 2015).  An offender-focused team worked with intelligence analysts to gather information and increase surveillance on high rate offenders operating within crime hot spots. The intervention was associated with a significant reduction in violent crime.

Evidence-Based Policing Matrix


Counterterrorism/Intelligence-Led Policing Studies from the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix

Di Tella & Schargrodsky (2004) Blocks that received extra police protection experienced significantly fewer car thefts than the rest of the neighborhoods. full-circle
Groff et al. (2015) -Offender focused A hot spots approach focusing on known offenders led to a reduction in violent crime and violent felonies full-circle

Resultfull-circle = successful intervention; grey-circle = mixed results; empty = nonsignificant finding; backfire = harmful intervention

Rigor: M = moderately rigorous; R = rigorous; VR = very rigorous

X-axis: I = individual; G = group; MP = micro place; N = neighborhood/community; J = jurisdiction

Y-axis: F = focused; G= general

Z-axis: R = reactive, P = proactive, HP = highly proactive