Community-oriented policing: reducing citizens’ fear of crime
Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
recently instructed the Inspector General of Police to form Special
Advisory Committees at Police divisional level comprising members of
civil society in the areas.
He added that these Committees should have some kind of authority to
make suggestions in connection with issues that crop up in the area in
relation to crimes so that the Police would be able to take into account
such suggestions and views.
This direction brings us closer to the concept of community-oriented
policing which, as Defence Secretary points out, was a remarkable
success during the conflict years.
Making residents feel safer and improving their quality of life is
the primary goal of Police. This idea sparked the development of a
number of different Police strategies and tactics designed to improve
Police-community relations. The philosophy of community-oriented
policing is built upon the premise that reducing citizens' fear of crime
while forming a partnership between the Police and the community is a
worthwhile goal of Police organizations. Community-oriented policing is
a wonderful way for the Police to reach out to the community and gain a
much more comprehensive knowledge of the problems at the ground level.
The concept of community-oriented policing is gaining recognition in
Sri Lanka. Some months back, The Asia Foundation’s Colombo office, with
financial support from the British High Commission and the Conflict
Prevention Pool of the UK government, launched a pilot community
policing programme in Kandy District.
Last year, the Scottish Police College (SPC) conducted a training
programme on Community Policing for members of the Sri Lanka Police at
the new Community Policing Centre at Gampaha, which has been re-equipped
and re-opened to support this training activity. The training programme
will enable the Sri Lankan officers to qualify for an International
Vocational Qualification in Community Policing and work within the Sri
Lanka Police Service.
These are good signs because community-oriented policing initiatives
are relatively inexpensive, when measured against other reform measures.
However, this writer believes that the time is now opportune to make
consistent efforts to develop a truly conceptualized community-oriented
Police force in Sri Lanka.
In spite of good intentions, there is a danger that such efforts can
cause damage to the community if it falls prey to politicisation.
Politicians should not be encouraged to actively participate in these
Rather, they should provide an assisting role to contribute towards
the institutionalisation of the initiatives and lend their credibility
to the projects.
The other major threat comes from radical elements in society, who if
included, can quickly turn a community policing initiative into a
vigilante group which ends up doing more harm than good to the
Community-oriented policing recognizes that Police rarely solve
public safety problems alone. Collaborative partnerships and mutual
respect between the law enforcement organizations, individual residents,
community organizations and businesses are critical to develop proactive
solutions to problems and improve trust in police officers and the
agency they represent.
Other partners can consist of other governmental agencies, community
members, civic groups, private sector, news media, educators, public
health, mental health and other emergency response organizations.
The range of potential partners is large and they can be used to
accomplish the two interrelated goals: developing solutions to problems
through collaborative problem solving and, improving public trust.
Collaborative partnerships between the law enforcement agency and
individuals and organizations they serve allow them the ability to
develop solutions to problems to increase public trust.
Core component one
Establishing and maintaining mutual trust is the central goal of the
first core component of community policing - community partnership.
Police should recognize the need for cooperation with the community. In
the fight against serious crime, Police can encourage community members
to come forth with relevant information.
In addition, Police can speak to locality groups, participate in
business and civic events, work with social agencies, and take part in
educational and recreational programmes for schoolchildren. Special
units can provide a variety of crisis intervention services.
One might ask: “How then the cooperative efforts of
community-oriented policing differ from the actions that are taking
place today?” The fundamental distinction is that, in community-oriented
policing, the Police become an integral part of the community culture,
and the community assists in defining future priorities and in
allocating resources. The difference is substantial and encompasses
basic goals and commitments.
Community partnership means adopting a policing perspective that
exceeds the standard law enforcement emphasis. This broadened outlook
recognizes the value of activities that contribute to the orderliness
and well-being of a locality. These activities could include: helping
accident or crime victims, providing emergency medical services, helping
resolve domestic and locality conflicts (e.g., family violence,
landlord-tenant disputes), working with residents and local businesses
to improve locality conditions, controlling auto-mobile and pedestrian
traffic, providing emergency social services and referrals to those at
risk (adolescent runaways, the homeless, the intoxicated, and the
mentally ill), protecting the exercise of constitutional rights (e.g.,
guaranteeing a person’s right to speak, protecting lawful assemblies
from disruption), and providing a model of citizenship (helpfulness,
respect for others, honesty, and fairness).
These services help develop trust between the Police and the
community. This trust will enable the Police to gain greater access to
valuable information from the community that could lead to the solution
and prevention of crimes, will engender support for needed crime-control
measures, and will provide an opportunity for officers to establish a
working relationship with the community.
Building trust will not happen overnight; it will require on-going
effort. But trust must be achieved before Police can assess the needs of
the community and construct the close ties that will engender community
support. In turn, this cooperative relationship will deepen the bonds of
trust. To build this trust for an effective community partnership Police
must treat people with respect and sensitivity. The use of unnecessary
force and arrogance, aloofness, or rudeness at any level of the agency
will dampen the willingness of community members to ally themselves with
Core component two
Problem solving is a broad term that implies more than simply the
elimination and prevention of crimes. It is based on the assumption that
crime and disorder can be reduced in small geographic areas by carefully
studying the characteristics of problems in the area, and then applying
the appropriate resources and on the assumption that “Individuals make
choices based on the opportunities presented by the immediate physical
and social characteristics of an area”.
By manipulating these factors, people will be less inclined to act in
an offensive manner. This is the theory behind problem-oriented
Certain specific conditions create problems. These conditions might
include the characteristics of the people involved (offenders, potential
victims, and others), the social setting in which these people interact,
the physical environments, and the way the public deals with these
A problem created by these conditions may generate one or more
incidents. These incidents, while stemming from a common source, may
appear to be different. For example, social and physical conditions in a
deteriorated apartment complex may generate burglaries, acts of
vandalism, intimidation of pedestrians by rowdy teenagers, and other
incidents. These incidents, some of which come to Police attention, are
symptoms of the problems. The incidents will continue so long as the
problem that creates them persists.
Determining the underlying causes of crime depends, to a great
extent, on an in-depth knowledge of community.
Therefore, community participation in identifying and setting
priorities will contribute to effective problem-solving efforts by the
community and the Police. Cooperative problem solving also reinforces
trust, facilitates the exchange of information, and leads to the
identification of other areas that could benefit from the mutual
attention of the Police and the community. The problem-solving process,
like community partnership, is self-renewing.
Proponents of Community Policing (including this writer) sincerely
believe that this new paradigm has the potential to serve as the model
for dramatic reform of the entire criminal justice system. Community
policing's successes inspire optimism that the criminal justice system,
including law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections, could
begin to function as a seamless whole, with all elements working as
partners with the people who have the most to gain or lose in making
their localities better and safer places in which to live and work.
While community policing serves as a model for imagining our way to a
fully realized system of community criminal justice, the history of
community policing in other countries, especially in South Asia, also
provides a cautionary tale of the pitfalls likely to occur along the
It is therefore imperative that all partners who are interested in
making this concept become a reality sit together and explore both the
opportunities and the obstacles, in the hope of encouraging experiment
and innovation and avoiding mistakes.