Importance of Community Policing | Daily News

Importance of Community Policing

Community policing, recognizing that Police rarely can solve public safety problems alone, encourages interactive partnerships with relevant stakeholders. The range of potential partners is large, and these partnerships can be used to accomplish the two interrelated goals of developing solutions to problems through collaborative problem solving and improving public trust. Public trust in the Sri Lanka Police is taking a gradual decline. The Sri Lanka Police should realize the importance of building the public’s confidence at every level. The public should play a role in prioritizing and addressing public safety problems. The Founding Father of the London Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peele said “The Police are the public and the public are the Police”. Even the word cop- derives from the phrase citizen on patrol. Globally the concept of community policing is seen as the positive influence in crime prevention and national security.

As a collective group, law enforcement needs to recognize the importance of community relationships if we are going to identify individuals who pose a threat to our society, district and finally national security. Developing and maintaining trusting relationships are the foundation of community policing. It is a prudent initiative that a Community Policing Division was set up in Sri Lanka, but it has not reached its desired purpose and potential- this is the evaluation of the general public. When we were children we knew the names of the Constables and Sergeants who came down our lane riding their bicycle. We knew the name and school of the area OIC/HQI. This is not the trend now. This shows that the Police are not close to the people but desire to be closer to politicians for promotions, amongst other benefits.

One of the reasons pointed out by some senior officers, is that during the three decades of conflict policemen were deployed with assault rifles like soldiers, for security duties. They were supposedly overloaded with tracking terrorists and thus lost their ‘connection’ with the public. I don’t agree. On the contrary the Police must be closer to the public during periods of subversive activity to get vital information. The Police can’t be omnipresent and thus should rely on the citizens for information. Where detections of terrorists were made (during the conflict period) the credit must go to the Special Task Force, who fought valiantly with their guns and more wisely with their actions to capture the hearts of people. It was the STF who secured peace initially in the Eastern Province in the turbulent days. It was the STF that bravely defused bombs, and did operations in deep jungles. They cultivated the trust of people in border villages. The STF maintained their ‘people first’ attitude in the Northern Province too and were able to get information of high profile tiger cadres.

Going back to the point that the regular Police acted in an undesirable manner due to the war pressure, is not valid as the war ended triumphantly in 2009. So now what is the regular Police tasked with? Basic Police duties which seems a challenge for many. Weeks ago it was revealed that 4,000 cops were unfit for duty. Since 2020 there seems to be so many public complaints against the deteriorating standards of Sri Lanka Police. Thankfully this degrading behaviour was captured on smartphones and reached the public on prime time TV news. Every corrupt action and abuse of power distances the people from the Police. The year gone by was laced with massive public protests, and the Police approach on Public Order Management, at some moments- leaves us with concern.

Community policing emphasizes changes in organisational structures to institutionalize its adoption throughout the entire department, including the way it is managed and organised, its personnel, and its technology. Individuals who live, work, or otherwise have an interest in the community— volunteers, activists, formal and informal community leaders, religious leaders, residents, visitors and tourists and commuters—are a valuable resource for identifying community concerns. According to the public many OICs/HQIs have taken the role of demi – Gods and demand respect from the public, forgetting they are paid by the public whom they must serve. Allegiance to political masters has blinded their job focus, as guardians of the law. The actions of inefficient OICs are a reflection of the questionable leadership of their Division OIC (SSP/SP). Police stations must operate in Sinhalese, Tamil and English. If tourist arrivals are to increase, English speaking courteous cops are a positive influence on tourism.

The media represents a powerful mechanism by which to communicate with the community. They can assist with publicizing community concerns and available solutions, such as services from Government or community agencies or new laws or codes that will be enforced. In addition, the media can have a significant impact on public perceptions of the Police, crime problems, and fear of crime. Thankfully in the recent past the Police Media Division has become more people friendly and proactive.

Community policing calls for decentralization in both command structure and decision making. Decentralized decision making allows frontline officers to take responsibility for their role in community policing. When a police officer is able to create solutions to problems and take risks, he or she ultimately feels accountable for those solutions and assumes a greater responsibility for the well-being of the community. Senior Police officers must boldly stand by their junior officers and encourage them to do what is right and dignified. Teamwork is key to the success of service delivery. The Sri Lanka Police should have a written statement reflecting a department wide commitment to community policing and a pragmatic plan that matches operational needs to available resources and expertise of its operational cadre.

If the community is to be a full partner, the department needs mechanisms for readily sharing relevant information on crime and social disorder problems and Police operations with the community. Training at all levels—academy, field, and in-service—must support community policing principles and tactics. It also needs to encourage creative thinking, a proactive orientation, communication and analytical skills, for dealing with quality-of-life concerns and maintaining order. More women cops must be put on public duty, rather than being inside the station office.

Policemen and Policewomen must improve their soft skills- answering the phone (giving their name and rank which is rarely done), writing complaints, talking with the public, being professional at check points etc. The overall ambience and layout of some Police stations must change to reflect a modern Police Force. Religion and politics must be strictly kept out of police work. Officers can be trained to identify and correct conditions that could lead to crime, raise public awareness, and engage the community in finding solutions to problems. Field training officers and supervisors need to learn how to encourage problem solving and help officers learn from other problem-solving initiatives.

Community policing encourages the use of technology to provide officers with ready access to timely information on crime and community characteristics within their beats, either through laptop computers in their patrol cars or through personal data devices.

One wonders if Police officers taking up new duties are given proper orientation of their new areas etc.? All ranks must be computer literate; there is no excuse for this. How do we fight cyber-crime at station and division level? Much focus has been suddenly given on combating the drug called ‘ICE’. This problem was there and has increased. Why did it increase? If our community policing was effective we don’t need this new rave and media circus about fighting ICE.

The Local Police Stations must already know the dealers and those supposedly selling to schoolchildren if they did their daily patrols and intelligence gathering months in advance? I have told some senior officers how horses of the Mounted Police Division and dogs of the Police Kennels, and their riders and handlers, can be used in public venues like Galle Face to engage the public in a friendly manner and then to give information on narcotic prevention etc. Police must be seen at crowded venues like the Fort Station and Pettah Private Bus stand giving people a ‘visual’ umbrella of safety, especially at night. More female cops must be on duty at night to assure women travelling alone that they are safe. All this builds public appreciation.

Sri Lanka has witnessed the devastating impacts to individuals and communities that come out of terrorist and targeted attacks. For victims, their families, and first responders, the suffering can last a lifetime. Threats of terrorism come from a variety of sources – organised groups outside the country, those inside the country, and the lone attacker. Regardless of the source, community policing is critical to identifying those who are planning to carry out acts of violence, preparing communities to respond, aiding public safety officials in the response, and when acts cannot be prevented, helping communities heal and recover. I like to discuss three eras in our history. During the JVP era of armed extremism the Police labeled and harassed Sinhalese youth. Any Sinhalese man with a beard was seen as a subversive. During the LTTE era of domestic terrorism the Police labeled and often harassed the Tamil Community. People in the Northern Province still have serious trust issues about the Police. After the Easter Sunday attacks the Police labeled and began harassing the Muslim Community. Police must understand our multi-cultural values and operate with respect for all religions.

In all three periods the Sri Lanka Police has displayed a lack of detective skills, preventive crime fighting, understanding of terrorism related psychology, analyzing accurate intelligence and professionalism. They certainly lost the public’s support. These emotional scars remain unhealed within all three ethnic communities. Of course there are intelligent and decent cops, who serve with courage. We need thousands more. We salute the 3,100 policemen who have died in the line of duty. We hope their families are cared for.

Sri Lanka Police needs more diligent officers who care for their local community and realize their role as guardians of the law. The welfare of these cops must be given due priority so that they are satisfied, and in turn serve the public. They deserve proper training, career development and timely promotions. The Police and the public must come together to create a safe nation. We need cops with altruism who love their country. Community policing is the foundation for a peaceful and happy country, which attracts global tourists.

(The writer is the author of Target Secured- Police Special Task Force)



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