Notes from the Field

From Bangladesh & Indonesia: Community Policing

June 18, 2008

It was a remarkable scene: a mix of faces from across Asia crowding a small conference room whose walls reverberated with the ring of different languages. In each of the four corners of the room, teams of visitors from Cambodia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste stood huddled in half-circles around flip charts, recording bullet points and sketching diagrams, conferring among themselves, and inviting program planning inputs from teams of resource persons from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. On the projection screen at the front of the room, an electronic slide show flashed dozens of colorful images of team members in rural Bangladesh, interacting with police officers, local leaders, representatives of civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens.

It was the final day of a five-day study program on community-oriented policing that the Bangladesh office of The Asia Foundation hosted in cooperation with counterparts from the Foundation’s Indonesia office in May 2008. The study program brought together 26 participants representing national police forces, university research centers, non-government organizations, local chambers of commerce, and Asia Foundation program staff. Its purpose was to share the model of community-oriented policing (COP) that was introduced by the Foundation in Indonesia in 2001 and adapted for replication in Bangladesh in 2003.

COP reshapes traditional police management and operational strategies by facilitating cooperative working relations between citizens and police. It is founded on a problem-solving approach that is both responsive to the needs of the community and sensitive to the challenges that police face in performing their duties. By creating space and opportunities for citizens and police to discuss their respective views, expectations, and matters of common concern, COP helps to make police more responsive to citizen interests. Improved police relations in turn nurture mutual trust and respect between police and members of the communities that they serve, promote improved communication and cooperation, and contribute to increased public satisfaction with police services”all of which translates into safer communities.

The six-nation study team members shared a common commitment to forge good faith partnerships between police and communities in promoting enhanced public security, law enforcement, and citizen access to justice through COP. When participants conveyed their home country experience and study program objectives on the first day of the program, it was clear that they shared many elements in common: transitions from earlier contexts in which the police had lost public confidence; bitter citizen reflections on the failure of police to treat them with due respect, yet little public appreciation of the difficulties that police face in performing their duties in the face of low salaries, strong political pressures, resource constraints, inadequate training, and stressful working conditions; and a recognition that the best prospect of change lies in setting historical tensions aside and working together to advance the common goal of enhanced public security.

In overview sessions on the first day, Foundation program staff and local partners outlined the steps that they followed in Bangladesh and Indonesia in conducting baseline research on community-police relations, designing and implementing COP programs, monitoring and evaluating results, and refining strategies on the basis of lessons learned and evolving opportunities. Participants then spent three days visiting project sites in the Jessore, Madaripur, and Bogra regions, where they interacted with police officials, members of the community policing forums that plan and implement local program activities, staff from local NGO partners that support them, and community members who described the positive changes that COP has brought to their localities. Examples include reductions in the incidence of drug addiction among youth, sexual harassment of young women, and theft and other petty crimes; introduction of informal dispute resolution mechanisms that help to anticipate and deter crime before it escalates; and opportunities for police to interact with students and community members through activities that emphasize the human face of policing in Bangladesh, like sports competitions.

On the final day of the study program, the teams reflected on the COP experience of Bangladesh and Indonesia and its relevance to their countries, and developed strategies to adapt good practices for application in their countries. Former Inspector General of the Bangladesh Police, Mr. A.S.M Shahjahan — a champion of police reform and community policing in Bangladesh — closed the session with an inspiring motivational message. In the three weeks following the program, Asia Foundation program staff members in the participating countries have been in daily contact with counterparts in Bangladesh and Indonesia as they flesh out strategies for the launch of COP programs.

Kim McQuay is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Bangladesh. 

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