Rutgers Team Addresses Security Issues in Brussels

Jun 12, 2017

From Paris to Brussels, Copenhagen to Orlando, and most recently in Manchester and London, an explosive surge in violent extremist and terrorist attacks is targeting civil society, public venues and religious groups. The threat of mass casualty attacks has reached unprecedented levels across the globe.

In response to this emergent threat, a team of international experts from Rutgers University has completed the second of two intensive sessions focusing on police-community relations in particularly sensitive districts of Brussels.

"As events this week have demonstrated, the time for broad pronouncements and abstract guidance has long passed," said Rutgers Professor John J. Farmer Jr., former New Jersey attorney general and senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission.

"The most effective way forward is to take action at the street level to protect vulnerable populations by strengthening their ties with law enforcement and making our communities more resilient," Farmer said. 

Funded through the generosity of Paul Miller, an alumnus of Rutgers University and Rutgers Law School, the Rutgers team has been working in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe and the United States since 2015, attempting to identify and, in this case, develop and implement reliable practices for protecting vulnerable populations. Recognizing the value of the Rutgers team’s work, Belgian officials invited the Rutgers team in the wake of the March 2016 attacks to work shoulder-to-shoulder with law enforcement and the Brussels community to develop a program to strengthen the relationship between the community and the police.

"The Rutgers team was here, on the ground, both before and after the attacks," said Belgian Federal Police Commissioner Saad Amrani.  "They have combined extraordinary experience and expertise with a commitment to adapt any proposed approaches to our individual circumstances."

"In a word, they listen," said Jonathan Biermann, head of crisis management for the Jewish community in Brussels.  "They have come here not to impose a top-down solution, but to learn and adapt.  Their credibility in the Brussels community, as a consequence, is peerless."

"The new reality of violent extremism requires an unprecedented level of engagement between police and community," said Sean Griffin, former Europol counterterrorism coordinator, who is serving as a senior adviser for the Rutgers team.

The Rutgers team conducted over 20 hours of videotaped interviews with civilians and law enforcement in the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks in Brussels. "These interviews are firsthand, primary source evidence of the impact of violent extremism on citizens, communities and police," Farmer said. "They highlight the need for a new form of community policing and a renewed commitment to public education about suspicious activity and self-protection." 

The team has built its training curricula around these firsthand accounts and around the results of a "Practitioners' Good Practices Exchange" Rutgers co-sponsored in November 2016 in partnership with The Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations, the Belgian Ministry of Home Affairs and the Union des Anciens Etudiants de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles.   

The working sessions were conducted last week in two districts in Brussels: the Sablon, a neighborhood noted for its many shops and the Great Synagogue of Europe and the site of the attack on the Jewish Museum in May 2014, and in Molenbeek, a largely Muslim community that has attracted much unwanted attention after the world learned of the Molenbeek origins and of several attackers in the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the attacks four months later in Brussels.

"The issues we have been confronting in Brussels resonate in communities throughout Europe, the United States and beyond," said Paul Goldenberg, a senior adviser for the Rutgers team who has worked extensively on hate crime prevention in the United States and Europe for over 20 years.  "This unprecedented initiative is a best practice that can be adapted to other communities and law enforcement."