With the arrival of winter and the continuing coronavirus restrictions on who we see, where we go and how we live our lives, understandably, we’re spending more time indoors.
This means that many of us are relying on the internet and social media to keep us connected to our loved ones, friends and colleagues, and this is likely to continue into 2021.
Whilst we have all seen examples of the internet and social media being used as a force for good, there is also evidence of these channels being exploited by people who are intent on radicalising others. Whether it’s to post extremist content online or target vulnerable people and encourage them to subscribe to their ideology, they are taking advantage of the unique circumstances we all find ourselves in as a result of the pandemic.
There is evidence that radicalisers are using social media to groom children and young people and lure in recruits – some as young as twelve years old. Earlier this year, in an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, warned of increasing numbers of children showing an interest in committing terrorist acts after being exposed to ‘hateful extremism’ online.
And it’s not just children. Extremists will target anyone they think may be vulnerable to their messaging, regardless of their age or background. That’s why it’s so important for us all to be vigilant for any signs that something’s not right with our family, friends and colleagues.
Experience tells us that someone else always knows when a person is moving towards an attack. A recent study showed that in the time before most lone-actor attacks, someone close to them knew about their growing ideology and violent intent, and most chose not to report it.
It can feel scary to think someone close could be heading down a path towards extremism. But family and friends are best placed to spot worrying behaviour at an early stage and can help the person they care about get the support they may need to move away from extremism.
That’s why, as part of Counter Terrorism Policing’s ACT (Action Counters Terrorism) campaign, a new website has been launched (www.actearly.uk) to provide help and advice and encourage family and friends to share concerns that a friend or loved one might be vulnerable to radicalisation.
The earlier you share your worries, the quicker the person you care about can get the help they need to protect them from being groomed and radicalised.
By trusting your instincts and acting early, together we can help prevent them from being drawn into harmful activities or groups, and help them choose a different path.
Visit www.actearly.uk for more information about how to spot the signs of radicalisation and what happens when you share concerns about someone close to you.
New policing model for the City
As I write, the threat level to the UK from terrorism has been raised to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. This is a precautionary measure in light of the recent horrific attacks in Europe, and is not based on a specific threat. There will be a step change in policing activity in the City of London, and people who live and work here can expect to see an increased, highly visible, police presence.
This will be supported by our new local policing model, which was introduced in October, and moves us ever closer to achieving the force’s ambition of making the Square Mile the safest city area in the world.
The model sees the City divided into geographical sectors, each with a senior officer who is responsible for their sector and accountable to the residents, workers and stakeholders within it. We recognise how important it is to all communities, in particular the security industry, to have a positive relationship with their local police force, and this model facilitates that.
We are already seeing the impact it is having on crime, with a prolific bike thief apprehended, an arrest for criminal damage, and illegal drugs seized and taken off the streets. I believe that this new model will go towards enhancing the city security partnership approach we have and help to deliver an even better policing service for all of our communities.
To find out more and to meet the team visit www.cityoflondon.police.uk or follow @CityPolice on Twitter.
I look forward to providing you with insights into how policing is tackling the security challenges ahead in 2021.
Assistant Commissioner Alistair Sutherland