Daily Archives: November 17, 2009

COIN in the cities

I’ve been of the opinion (as you surely know) that the principles of COIN doctrine can have real utility in areas of our country (including, but not exclusively, depressed urban areas) where the government is no longer able to exercise its basic functions of rule of law, social services, infrastructure maintenance, etc.  When the state does not fulfill its duty and creates a vacuum of authority and services, the spirit of Mr. Hobbes rises from the dead and a leviathan emerges, to assert some sort of order on the community.  That order may be brutal and slipshod but (as wonderfully described in Venkatesh’s book) is preferable by almost everyone to anarchy.  Generally, the state’s response has been to respond to the problems caused by this situation by focusing on those elements which organize the most and, therefore, appear most threatening to the state system.  As soon as a criminal organization is able to accrue enough power to exert its will geographically on a (semi) regular basis, law enforcement moves to crush it.  While that results in a tangible good (bringing to justice those who have preyed upon local inhabitants and broken laws) it creates a host of cascading consequences that are almost never dealt with (a return of anarchy, increased violence as previously supressed actors fight for control, etc.) until another network attracts the attention of the state.
The problem is crime and other undesirable manifestations of failed state control of areas have root causes which must be addressed if you want anything other than temporary improvement.  Hence, my desire to see a modified version of COIN applied to the lawless areas of our country.
So, it’s nice to see that at least one city out there is experimenting with the concept.  As reported in the Washington Post, Salinas, California had such a serious gang/crime problem that was clearly out of control of local authorities.  The mayor (perhaps given the budgetary problems in the state, they were told not to expect any assistance from Sacramento?) asked for help from the Naval Postgraduate Institute.  And what has the team from NPS discovered?
In Salinas, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the uniformed forces patrolling “are still viewed as an occupying force,” said Police Chief Louis Fetherolf.
Gangs and police compete in the aftermath of gang shootings — witnesses in a position to see everything share nothing with police.

The distrust rises partly from differences of culture and language: Many Hispanics in the city have roots in nations where police are often viewed as predators.

I think that last sentence is a bit disingenuous.  While it may be true, it misses the fact that there are lots of people who are born and raised in this country who view police (and most government representatives for that matter) as predatory and a threat (and I’m not talking about tea-baggers).  The way this is written threatens to undermine the whole idea that the problem is one of failing government and allows it to be supplemented with one that blames those dang immigrants.  The solution to that problem is much easier than all this ‘root cause’ stuff and we can just throw more armed guards on the border and our cities will naturally get better.

But Fetherolf, who took office this year, also blamed a tradition of police officers who “love the chase. They get into this business to kick ass and take names, by and large. We’re at odds with ourselves because of the people we hire.”

Now, that’s a very interesting quote and it’d be interesting what the chief does to follow through with it.  Does this mean he’s going to implement new criteria to hire, train, and promote police officers.  Assuming that isn’t a throw away line it could indicate big changes.
Certain adjustments were required: “Commander’s Intent” became “Mayor’s Intent.”
I’d argue this is a HUGE development.  I’ve been involved with trying to get some agencies to adopt the idea of ‘intent’ in order to guide their collection and analytical process (success to date:  meh).  It’s really the first step of the Planning and Direction process, without which you really aren’t going to get very far in producing meaningful intelligence products.  The biggest problem is that very few are willing to explicitly identify their priorities either because:
  1. the don’t understand the various threats sufficiently to establish priorities
  2. fear of suffering political/professional repercussions for not establishing the ‘right’ priorities (and by ‘right’ I mean the ones that end up blowing up in their faces.  Nobody wants to have to explain why they were focusing on North Korea (or whatever) while 19 Islamists were busy flying airplanes into buildings.  Better to just not make any priorities and claim everything is a priority (ahem…I’m talking about you ‘All Crimes, All Hazards’).

So, if, in fact, they are actually establishing priorities for operations and intelligence that would be a big step in the right direction.

If you’re interested in more on this, I’d recommend this thread on Small Wars Journal, although it gets off topic after the first page.  Here’s another that looks interesting as well.  In the past I’ve been dubious of authors with a SWJ pedigree in the past when they start talking about gangs and insurgencies but I think I may need to be a bit more discriminating in the future.