Officers in West Yorkshire told researchers how the expectation that followers of Islam should support charities had left some communities in Bradford at risk of exploitation.
The concerns were raised as part of a wide-ranging research project which looked at the role of community policing in combating extremism and promoting Prevent – the Government’s strategy for counteracting radicalisation.
The report, by extremism expert Hannah Stuart for the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, is based on interviews with officers from West Yorkshire Police and the North East Counter-Terrorism Unit. It said some communities were seen as easy targets by “intimidating” charities as well as those seeking to obtain money to fund criminal activity under the guise of charity.
As part of its conclusions, the report said: “[West Yorkshire Police] recognise that the religious injunction to give to charity within Bradford’s Muslim communities can make them vulnerable not only to fundraising for criminal or terrorist intent but also to intimidating styles of fundraising which seek to take advantage of a widespread generous and permissive attitude towards giving.”
The report said West Yorkshire Police had seen a proliferation of Syria-related charities since the conflict in Syria started and a surge in fundraising around the conflict in Gaza last summer.
One contributing officer told the researchers about a tactic used to collect money from drivers in stationary traffic.
The officer said: “The trick is, on these streets which are always really busy, was to go to some of the main arterial routes, press the button on the pelican lights, stop all the traffic and then go down the line of traffic with a bucket... and literally stop all the traffic, and we had lots and lots and lots of them.”
The report said officers agreed “this style of fundraising could be intimidating”.
One officer said some people who refused to donate were accused of “supporting the Israelis”.
One contributing officer told the team: “Our team are out there, handing out leaflets, reminding people and saying, ‘look there are bogus charity collectors who are just villains putting it in their pocket, but also as part of that you need to be aware that people give and the money might not go to where you think, it might end up funding terrorism’.”
The report – Community Policing and Preventing Extremism: Lessons from Bradford – said the officers believed good community relations were vital in tackling extremism.
Officers stressed the importance of taking an interest in “quality of life issues” like dog-fouling and parking problems “rather than attempting to force a relationship in response to a Prevent-related issue”.
They also talked of the important of using credible local figures to challenge extremist rhetoric.