Police for People

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If we peel back the layers of the most recent crimes such as the killing of children and the disturbing prevalence of violence against women, we are likely to find broader socio-political issues that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the police, “Now you deal with this.”

Police cannot fix social problems and it is naïve to expect them to do so. Better regulation and training can tell officers when to pull the trigger and how to treat someone in custody with dignity but cannot make our socio-political problems go away.

A narrow focus on criminal behaviour misses the big picture. Neither the police nor the criminals come from another planet. They are products of society. The failure to take this into consideration evokes a society partitioned into seemingly two separate compartments—the “good” who always abides by moral codes and the “bad” who are inherently evil. Is that so?

The question would seem to strengthen the argument for community policing, a concept originated in 1874 Japan and now practiced in many cities in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Singapore, according to David Bayley, Professor of Criminology at  The State University of New York at Albany.

Let’s take a look at Camden, an impoverished city in New Jersey that once had the reputation for being the most dangerous in the US. The city disbanded its police department in 2013, installing a new county unit. Since then murders and shootings dropped by 50 percent, robberies and rape are down by a third. The fast-food joint across the street from police headquarters is once again a place to buy burgers, not crack cocaine.

What seems to be working? Well, the organisational culture within the department changed and the city returned to old-style policing. Officers are now trained to understand that they are more like social workers than warriors fighting the bad guys. Instead of using squad cars, police personnel now patrol on their feet or on bicycles. They knock on doors, introduce themselves and get to know the people in a neighbourhood. They play sports with residents and organise events where they mingle with the residents.

Nothing builds trust like human contact. We seem to be catching up with this old-fashioned idea. The Police Reform Programme (PRP), funded by UNDP and DFID, works to support the transition of the Bangladesh Police from a “colonial style police force” to a more service-oriented organisation. The programme, among other things, promotes better interaction with the community through model police stations and community policing forums. Accordingly, 52,000 Community Policing Forums (CPFs) have been established countrywide. And about 23,000 people are directly involved with community policing in Dhaka metropolitan area under the guidance and supervision of the Crime Prevention Center at the police headquarters.

The results show promise. According to Dhaka Metropolitan Police website, “Community policing has made significant contribution in matters of dispute settlement, arrest of criminals/suspects and in building public awareness about social issues like violence against women and children, child marriage, eve teasing, drug addiction etc.”

There are obstacles to overcome. Lack of funding remains a major challenge. Dr Zia Rahman, professor and founding Chairman of the Department of Criminology at the University of Dhaka says, “It still is a voluntary service in Bangladesh. Given the high density of population and low police-people ratio, community policing has bright prospects. The government has established Counter-Terror Unit, Industrial Police, River Police, Highway Police and Tourist Police. It’s time they looked at community policing more seriously. University students can be involved in community policing. This will help build character and they will get to play a role in nation building.”

Police are often judged according to how many people they arrest, not how many crimes they prevent. New ways for assessing performance, with data that measures crime prevention, could encourage less violent forms of law enforcement. One way to achieve this goal can be through community policing.

It does not substitute a new set of objectives for old ones like safety and order. It is a new approach to accomplishing the same objectives.

The writer is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star

Source: The Daily Star

1 COMMENT

  1. Extremely nice thoughts indeed & very well said.
    However, are the contents for academic reading pleasure only or could these possibly be implemented on ground ?

    My take is, its far far from the reality.

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