The Long Road Traveled: Community-Oriented Policing in Bangladesh
February 24, 2010
In late 2003, when The Asia Foundation first sought to introduce community-oriented policing in Bangladesh to help address security issues at the local level, the welcome was not warm. The idea was brand new, and, naturally, police were unsure of the process and at a loss as to the expected outcomes. Some feared it would evolve into a separate law enforcement unit gradually taking over some police responsibilities. Others resisted changes that might forever alter the way things were done. Police also responded negatively to our proposals to involve civil society organizations. On the community side, citizens showed little enthusiasm for working directly with the police.
From 2003 to fall 2007, when the Bangladesh police instructed police administrations in all of the country’s 64 districts to adopt community policing, the Foundation’s work at the local level, combined a series of advocacy initiatives at the central policy level contributed to a “trickle-up” effect. Gradually, people in the community and police officers in the field started to find senior officials at national police headquarters increasingly willing to listen.
Since first initiating community policing, the Foundation and our three local partners have worked together to ensure that the priorities are shaped by realities on the ground. Community members were given priority in the selection of community police forum (CPF) members, and in determining what issues to address and what coordination mechanisms to use among community, police, and NGO partners. At local police stations, officers-in-charge assigned one sub-inspector to each CPF and Superintendents of Police (heading police in each district) began meeting with these officers regularly.
One of the demands from both police and communities was a thorough orientation to community policing processes and procedures. Along with our partners, the Foundation sat with district-level police officials and leading human rights organizations to develop training content and schedules, organized and facilitated by police representatives and NGO partners, for officers at the police station and community members of the CPF.
Within their first year, CPF members had identified the need for a place to which community members could come and find information on CPF activities, as well as to bring their concerns. Using donations of space and materials, CPF members established Community Policing Information Centers (CPIC), manned by volunteers who could also receive and register concerns and complaints, most of which involve sexual harassment, petty theft, gambling, drugs, and domestic violence linked to disputes about dowry payments, defaulting on personal loans, and land ownership. These concerns are then brought to the CPF’s attention.
The CPF then also introduced Alternate Dispute Resolution sub-committees, consisting of three to five CPF members with the additional responsibility of resolving local issues such as domestic violence and family cases. NGO partners provided training on family law with a special emphasis on women and children, and dowry issues; on the Alternative Dispute Resolution process; and on the skills needed to conduct successful mediations.
Six years after the launch of community-oriented policing, the results are striking. Demand for training in the community policing model has come from communities neighboring the three Foundation project areas, and from officers who have transferred from a community policing program area to non-program areas and who wish to replicate it. And, most revealing, members of local communities continue to devote extraordinary amounts of volunteer time to CPF activities long after NGO assistance has ended, creating a successfully sustainable approach with the clear potential to contribute much more to local security across Bangladesh.
Mir Rakib Ahsan is The Asia Foundation’s Senior Program Officer, Rights and Criminal Justice, in Bangladesh and Jerome Sayre is the Foundation’s Deputy Country Representative in Bangladesh. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.
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