Major counter terrorism awareness operation launches in London.

The Metropolitan Police Service joins officers from across the country to take part in national Counter Terrorism Awareness Week, launching in the capital today, Monday, 24 November.

Policing activity involving over 3,000 officers includes briefing thousands of businesses – shopping centres, cinemas, sports stadiums – to help them step up their security and train their staff at venues across London.

High visibility patrols around crowded places, operations in transport hubs and visits to faith centres are just some of the activity taking place as part of the campaign.

Through the week, police are focusing on five key areas where action by the police, businesses and the public can prevent terrorism: vigilance in crowded places and transport hubs, preventing violent extremism, cutting off terrorist financing and preventing access to tools that terrorists need to operate.

Police will be speaking to students in schools and universities about the Prevent strategy, which provides practical help to stop people from being drawn into terrorism. Police forces will also be using social media to engage people in the conversation.

Police dogs will be detecting large amounts of money at ports, airports and railway stations to prevent cash leaving the UK for terrorist purposes.

Countering terrorism has for too long been thought of as the preserve of the police, security agencies and government, says National Policing Lead for Counter-Terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley.

AC Mark Rowley calls for people and businesses to be prepared to play their part in keeping the country safe:

“The danger posed by violent extremists has evolved. They are no longer a problem solely stemming from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, far away in the minds of the public. Now, they are home grown, in our communities; radicalised by images and messages they read on social media and prepared to kill for their cause. The tragic murder of Lee Rigby last year was a stark warning to us all about how real and local the threat is.

“Police officers and our partners are continuing to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect the UK from a terrorist attack. So far this year, we have disrupted several attack plots and made 271 arrests following counter-terrorism investigations but the eyes and ears of law enforcement and other agencies alone cannot combat the threat.”

The UK’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST, focuses on four key areas; pursue, prevent, protect and prepare. Most of the publicity around terrorism is based on ‘pursue’ and ‘prevent’, as these involve arrests, the disrupting of actual attack plots and turning people away from extremism. AC Rowley is keen to stress that we can all be doing more to ‘protect’ and ‘prepare’ – ensuring security in crowded places, monitoring our borders and being ready to respond to a terrorist attack. He said: “We don’t want to scare people but we do want them to understand the threat and be vigilant to things that are out of place or suspicious and report it to the police. We need businesses to check that their security measures are effective and train their staff to detect potential threats and, if necessary, respond to an attack.

“Experience shows us that terrorists target busy, well-populated places to ensure that attacks have a maximum impact. Businesses, particularly those in crowded places, have an invaluable role to play in our fight against terrorists, violent extremists and other criminals. Their staff are often the first people to spot signs that something is wrong.”

The police regularly hold security events with businesses; and the Metropolitan Police Service alone gave 29 presentations during 2013/14.

Since the terror threat level increased on 29 August reports of suspicious behaviour have nearly doubled. This is a direct result of reporting by members of the public, and every report is investigated. However, AC Rowley calls for more people to have the confidence to report: “Please tell us if you know or suspect something; your information could save lives. We will deal with information passed to us carefully and respond sensitively and proportionately.”