In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many people looked at Arab Americans with fear and suspicion. It was a sentiment that was particularly personal for the residents of Dearborn, Mich., home to the nation’s most concentrated Arab community. But a decade later, trust -- not fear or suspicion -- is the watchword throughout Dearborn. And the person largely responsible for building that trust is Police Chief Ron Haddad.
Before two airplanes struck the World Trade Center buildings, terrorism wasn’t something most local law enforcement agencies had to worry about. Since that day, however, many local police departments have ramped up their intelligence-gathering capabilities and worked more closely than ever with federal agencies to prevent future domestic terror attacks. Haddad has taken a slightly different approach. Dearborn’s counterterrorism efforts, according to Haddad, operate on one basic assumption: “Most people are not terrorists, nor will they tolerate acts of terror.”
With this in mind, Haddad, the city and state’s first Arab-American police chief, has formed relationships built on trust and respect with all members of his community, particularly the Arab and Muslim populations. Haddad has pioneered a new approach to counterterrorism, using community-based policing as a way to defend against violent extremism. It’s paying off. Crime was down 7 percent in 2010, thanks in large part to the culture of comfort that citizens have in reporting suspicious activity.
“[There] can’t be this boots-on-the-ground sort of militaristic, machismo attitude about countering terrorism,” says Juliette Kayyem, the former assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “It has to be one of civic engagement, and I think the Dearborn model is a model for the nation and for federal policy.”
Dearborn’s strong civic engagement is exemplified in its Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity (BRIDGES) program, which has already been replicated by a handful of other cities. BRIDGES offers a way for Dearborn’s Arab-American residents to voice their concerns to local, state and federal government officials. During community meetings, “you hear not fear, not antagonism, not a language of isolation,” but “a community that’s invested in public safety,” says Kayyem. And Haddad is “an ideal bridge between the community and the police force.”
— Caroline Cournoyer
Photo by David Kidd
In this video, Chief Haddad sat down for an interview with the Kiwanis Club of Dearborn, Mich., about his career.