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LA Police Official Makes It A Priority To Reach Out To Muslim Communities


Michael Downing is the commanding officer of the Counterterrorism and Special Operations Bureau for the Los Angeles Police Department. He's been with LAPD for more than 30 years. And he's made it his mission to reach out and build relationships with Muslim leaders in communities in and around Los Angeles. Chief Downing joins us from NPR West in Culver City. Good morning.

MICHAEL DOWNING: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Now, obviously there are still a great number of unknowns around Wednesday's mass shooting. But one thing we have known from the beginning - we've tried to be careful how we talk about it, but we have known that the two shooters were Muslim. In your line of work, I assume this was something that the beginning you really did not want to hear.

DOWNING: Well, we were hoping that it wasn't the case. We've always looked at our Muslim communities in Los Angeles as our strength. And when this happens, we are afraid of the backlash and the hatemongers that come out. And so we need to stand strong and united with our community so this doesn't happen.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we have almost daily shootings that qualify as mass shootings involving four or more people in the United States. But violent Islamic extremism is still very rare in this country. Why is that?

DOWNING: Well, I'd say it does seem to be increasing at an exponential rate. But considering our population, the volume level of it is fairly low. However, with that said, it does feel like we have a bit of a wave forming. And I think that to prevent this from occurring and be more resilient, all our communities need to stand up and ask themselves, what can we do to participate in resisting this so that these bad things can't take root in our communities.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that in some cases, extremist plots that have been discovered in this country before they could cause harm - the reason for that is that people in the community have come to the police. Has that happened in your work?

DOWNING: Absolutely it has. I mean, we have a local campaign we call iWatch. You can download the app on a smartphone. And we encourage people not to stereotype people or profile human beings but profile criminal behavior.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder if you could give us an example.

DOWNING: Oh, sure, I mean, anything - a neighbor reports that a young is changing his disposition, changing the way he looks, changing his clothing. Another example would be a mosque where individuals come to the mosque to try to take it over and threaten mosque leaders. And it's an example of groups trying to take over mosques and radicalize youth. That has happened here in this region.

WERTHEIMER: Were you able to intervene?

DOWNING: We were able to keep the peace while the board members actually sued the individuals and took back control of their mosque.

WERTHEIMER: How did you keep the peace?

DOWNING: Well, we kept the peace by - sometimes we just had a uniform presence at the mosque. We allowed the congregation to feel confident that, should a crime occur, we were going to be there for them, investigate it and prosecute the offender.

WERTHEIMER: I've seen some references to radicalization of the young people that were involved in the shooting you just had in California. Can you tell us anything about that?

DOWNING: No. This is an FBI case, I really don't want to get involved in that. But I understand that these pathways to radicalization are real. And we're looking at developing an intervention model so that there's an alternative - that if people have these thoughts, we can build an off-ramp, if they haven't yet mobilized to violence, as we did with the gang model to introduce diversion programs, youth development, job placement, etc. So we are exploring that model right now.

WERTHEIMER: Chief Downing, thank you very much.

DOWNING: Thank you very much. It was nice to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: Michael Downing commands the Counterterrorism and Special Operations Bureau of the LAPD. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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