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     Volume 5 Issue 90 | April 14, 2006 |

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Community Policing Actually Works                           

Shamim Ashraf

When her husband deserted Sayema and their eight-year-old daughter Parveen and married another woman three years ago, she found no other way than to work as a domestic help for their livelihood. After his second marriage, Rafiq lives with his new wife in a house adjacent to Sayema's house in the same area but do not provide them any food. But this was not the end of her ordeal as her husband did not stop beating her. "All these years, I didn't know where to go for justice, whom to appeal for it," the 45-year-old woman of Namuza union parishad (UP) of Bogra said while blood dripped from her left ear hit by her husband Rafiq, a cattle broker.

The ill-fated woman found someone to tell about her miseries once the community policing forum (CPF) started working in her area to listen to and solve community problems.

As this correspondent was visiting a CPF office in Namuza in Bogra last week of March, Sayema and her daughter Parveen rushed there, both crying. "When Parveen was crying for food, her father grabbed her and tried to beat her. As I intervened, he beat me up and tore my ear," Sayema said, wiping the tears rolling down her cheeks.

The CPF men brought her husband to their office, registered Sayema's complaint in front of him and asked Rafiq not to leave the area before his trial ends.

The CPF are scheduled to meet in the second week of April to decide on Sayema's case and 28 other complaints of community problems.

A gambhira on teh occasion of one-year of community policing in Bogra underway

Collaboration between citizens and police in addressing community problems in some areas of Bogra has made striking examples of social benefit. It has also developed trusting relations and narrowed the gap in understanding and creating respect between police and citizens.

Community beneficiaries have reported 'unexpected good result' of the collaboration in addressing drug addiction, gambling, theft, harassment of women, land dispute and dowry-related problems and other community problems. Meanwhile, local police authorities said it has cut their workload to concentrate in community problems and resulted to lowering petty crimes.

In just 18 months, pilot community-oriented policing (COP) activities have brought encouraging results. They have managed to change people's perceptions, attitudes, and promoted cooperation among citizens and police to work together to address issues of common concern.

Following the success, an increasing demand from citizens and police in neighbouring communities has been raised for expansion of COP programmes, now run by The Asia Foundation, in their localities.

Non-government organisation Light House facilitates COP activities in six wards -- three in the municipality and three in Union Parishad (UP)-level -- in Bogra while Banchte Shekha in 12 wards in Jessore and Madaripur Legal Aid Association in 10 wards of Madaripur.

Encouraged by its successful COP programme experience in Indonesia, The Asia Foundation held a number of discussions with cross-sections of people across the country. One of the important issues of the discussions was the gap in understanding, trust and respect that divides citizens and police at community-level.

On receipt of endorsement of police headquarters, home ministry and prime minister's office, the Foundation first conducted a baseline survey in Bogra, Jessore and Madaripur in 2004 and found that citizens have little trust or confidence in the police and that they prefer to exhaust alternative remedies before seeking police assistance when threatened or affected by crime.

"Police are perceived to have little sense of professional duty towards citizens and the citizens in turn have little appreciation of the challenges that police face in their duties," Rakib Ahsan, Asia Foundation programme officer, told The Daily Star.

Sayema weeps as she narrates the torture

The Forum, which consists of 15 to 25 members, was formed in each ward. With the ward commissioners as convenor, each CPF includes a police officer, a member of Ansar/Village Defence Party, representatives of women organisations, school principals and teachers, businesspersons, religious leaders and farmers while a representative of the facilitating NGO works as member secretary.

After people contact the Forum with a problem, a designated member records their problem, which are raised later at the monthly CPF meeting.

Several CPFs have formed five-member subcommittees on alternative dispute resolution that provide support in resolving conflicts that involve law and order issues or strained relations between citizens and police. After people inform them about any matter of dispute, it convenes arbitration to solve it and, if fails, recommends the matter to Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Blast), which provides assistance for free.

CPF runs school programmes that raise student awareness of COP and address criminal justice issues of concern to young people, and community cultural, sporting and other events in which citizens and police can interact informally and get to know one another.

The Light House has set up six 'Objection Boxes' in the six wards.

Community information booths have been set up for disseminating information about COP and the role and activities of the CPF and advice on specific criminal justice issues.

To expedite CPF works, a 30-member Community Police Facilitating Forum has been formed with the Superintendent of Police as the head. It meets once in two months.

While beginning the campaign, the CPF made announcements from loudspeakers, held meetings in the communities and religious leaders preached at the mosques every Friday for creating awareness among the community people.

To address drug addiction and drug peddling in the municipality and UP areas, the CPF met the addicts and their parents and provided them counselling. "Where detoxication at home failed, we admit them to treatment centres," said CPF organiser Nazrul Islam, adding that they have five such treatment centres in Bogra. Forty Seven of 789 addicts of Bogra have so far stopped usings drug as the CPF members provided counselling to about 10,000 drug users.

Several drug peddlers, meantime, were caught and handed over to the police station.

Eve-teasing was another thing that CPF successfully stopped.

"It became impossible for me to go to school as many youths used to stop me on the way and tease me," says Rozina Khatun, a class 10 student of Taposhi Rabeya School in Bogra. "But the situation changed after the CPF members intervened."

Shantana, another class 10 student of the same school, said a local youth proposed to her on her way to private tuition in Katnarpara in Bogra town. "As he threatened to throw acid on me, I had to stop going to my teacher," she said, adding that local CPF members later visited the area and stopped the eve-teasing with assistance of police.

Some youths used to take drugs inside Hasna Jahan School during the night and it could not be stopped even after police conducted operations there several times. After the CPF men later met the youths' guardians and threatened them with capturing their sons and sending them to jail, the situation came under control.

"While it was impossible for only the police or guardians to control their unruly sons, the situation changed after joint initiatives of police and the community," said Harunur Rashid, executive director of Light House.

In ward No. 9, the local market association appointed four youths for controlling traffic congestion at Charmatha intersection and pay them themselves.

A CPF beneficiary of Nishindara UP whose land dispute was solved describes the arbitration

While the community leaders could not stop drug selling in Badurtola in the town for for fear of the goons threats, the CPF earned success quickly with police assistance.

"In fact, other problems including gambling, early marriage, clash over land dispute, dowry-related beating and divorce has reduced a lot after we started working here," a CPF member of ward No. 9 of Nishindara UP told The Daily Star.

"Readiness of police and to devote voluntary time to the formation and activities of community-police forums, willingness of representatives of different political parties laying aside political differences have helped CPF succeed," Harunur Rashid said.

"Police have embraced COP, acknowledging that the CPF activities enhance their efforts to combat crime and ensure public security, and that regular interaction with citizens has helped to improve the public image of the police and the readiness of citizens to assist the police in their work," said Monsur Ali Mondol, officer-in-charge (OC) of Bogra Sadar Police Station.

"By creating space and opportunities for citizens and police to discuss their respective views and expectations and matters of common interest through informal dialogue, community-oriented policing helps to make the police more responsive to citizen interest," he said.

While they used to record 150 cases on an average in a month before initiation of COP activities, the number has now reduced to 60-70, he said. "People now do not have to come to the police station for solution of their community problems as police and community leaders deal with them at the community level," said the OC.

Encouraged by the success of the pilot programme experience, The Asia Foundation and its local partners wish to expand the COP model to other communities.

"We would definitely like to expand the programme, but it involves a lot of money... we're still running the works with our own resources," The Asia Foundation country representative Kim McQuay told The Daily Star.

The Asia Foundation officer hoped that other development partners would come up with similar initiatives for the greater benefit of the society.

Building on the pilot programme experience, the Foundation plans to develop an integrated community approach to combating human trafficking. This means collaboration among law enforcement officers, UP members, religious leaders, medical professionals, counsellors, shelter workers, livelihood trainers, NGO representatives, business persons and other members of the community.

Through these efforts, proven pilot programme experience has begun to help stimulate a national call for the broader adoption of COP by the police, with support from civil society, the media and other facilitating agents. The police administration, meanwhile, have proposed for introduction of community policing across the country, which now awaits government approval. A police headquarters committee headed by an additional inspector general have submitted a concept paper on this for inclusion of the provision in the organogram of Bangladesh Police to give it an institutional shape.

"Once it is approved by the government, there will be community police units in metropolitan and district level to receive complaints from the citizens," says Inspector General of Police Abdul Quayyum. "We'll try to solve the problems by counselling and legal steps," the IGP said, adding the process is still in primary level.

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