Dr Farhan Zahid
Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).
Community Oriented Policing (COP) offers a set of practices in order to involve public stake holders, taking input from the community, with a raison d'être of building a systematic liaison with community. Since Pakistan has been facing the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism for the last one and a half decade, therefore it is sine qua non for incorporating informal police practices and institutionalizes these for yielding positive results. Pakistan's rudimentary counter terrorism policy National Action Plan (NAP) encourages law enforcement organizations to establish a partnership with community in order to lower the crime rate, re-establish the image of police, and disrupt the spread of radical ideologies. Therefore the COP may be made part of the solution for countering violent extremism in Pakistan. The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of COP and its overall impact vis-à-vis Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).
In Pakistan a national level COP model, purpose-built and customized for countering violent extremis, is the need of the hour. A well chalked out COP program would not only complement the NAP but also help incorporate a variety of informal and traditional methods already in practice. Islamist violent extremism and terrorism are currently major challenges for law enforcement authorities in Pakistan.
In such scenario a COP model would not only bolster the morale of law enforcement authorities but also connect them to community in a renewed manner. Since the police is considered an extension of the government and a police officer on the street is the face of government, therefore the objective may be to update and revive the basic police practices in modernized ways. Moreover the COP model would provide police a great opportunity to reach out to community on the basis of responsiveness, fairness, and accessibility.
Institutionalization of the COP model is absolutely essential and requires measures to be taken for taking all stakeholders on board. Basing the COP model on successful international practices the community policing may be made part and parcel of basic policing ethos.
Certainly there are maiden opportunities at hand for Pakistani police, which could be utilized in the new COP model. A new generation of highly educated police officers, induction of female police officers, an apparent general consensus for countering violent extremism in the society at large, and some level of international support could be capitalized while initiating the project.
The existing model of COP in Pakistan suffers because of certain issues. The informal community policing practices such as Theekree Pehra (neighborhood watch), Vigilance Committees, Dispute Resolution Committees, Public Conciliatory Committees, Community Police Liaison Committees, Islahi Committees (advisory), and various individual initiatives have remained in the ambit of policing in Pakistan for decades. The incumbent practices lack formalized structure, and do not have the approval from the highest authorities. The informal system is not devised in consultation with other stakeholders, without identifying the best practices that could yield positive results across the board. This is one reason that some of the very good individual efforts have not been successful.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to formalize the structure of the COP model. Other impediments were shortage of professional individuals to perform specialized duties and of course the unavailability of funds. Existing models are either not backed by any legal framework or having rudimentary and semi-legal frameworks. Despite having relevant provisions in police codes and rules, the previous community policing models have hitherto not received much applause from stakeholders and failed to achieve the desired objectives.
COP is about changing the mindset of three segments of society : police, community and politicians ; and to build trust among them. The focus of the COP model shall be on building trust, modernizing the old community policing system and depoliticize the reforms agenda.
Multiple threats confronting Pakistani society could be adequately dealt with the help of building a liaison with the community. A carefully organized and calibrated strategy for initializing the COP model seems to provide solution to varied problems.
Developing a culture of COP requires a change in mindset of police officers out in the field. This attitudinal change towards a service-oriented approach - rather than the traditional coercive model - is also necessary because of a growing awareness among the Pakistani people about their rights. A successful behavioral change may ideally take place incrementally instead of a "shock-therapy" treatment. This may be a long-term process and need sustained support from the policy makers. However, the government stands to benefit the most from this change as a relationship of trust would start developing between police and public leading to a sense of security and trust in the government.
In order to improve public-police trust and adopting COP model for CVE it would be pertinent to work at two different levels : Strategic Level and Operational/Tactical Level.
Strategic level intervention requires that the federal government assign an agency as a focal point for all COP-related issues.
- Act as the main hub of COP activities, i.e. formulate policy and rules, dissemination of information to provinces and police units, monitoring the implementation of COP activities, collecting data from all units and providing feedback.
- Devise standardized operating procedure for implementing COP across the country with provision to allow provinces to amend them according to their specific requirements.
- Formulate performance criteria that can be measured and collect monthly reports in this regard.
- Maintain a centralized database of all COP activities being undertaken by the police units.
- Publish an annual report on COP for Federal government as well as international audience highlighting achievements and challenges being faced by various police units in the country.
- Create incentives for performance by announcing rewards for police units who have done outstanding work during the year.
District police offices and police stations are the basic units to be involved in community policing activities. Though as a matter of principle, the responsibility of community policing cannot be assigned to any specific officers but every member of police service regardless of his rank and position is to transform his way of working from traditional policing to problem solving and community policing. Yet, there has to a formal structure to coordinate and implement the community policing methods in our day to day policing. A number of activities and initiatives may start at police station level to enhance police-public interaction and create an enabling environment conducive to service oriented policing.
Pakistan is a developing country and the primary challenge to the COP efforts may be from the current mindset of Police officers at all levels. Unlike a developed country, the culture of community policing has not been institutionalized and training in this direction is currently lacking, therefore the acceptability of COP might face resistance. The police capacity issues including training would also pose problems in the implementation of COP and, therefore, need to be considered so that COP does not fail. The police corruption, mistrust of community and poor police image may discourage the community from coming forward and responding to the police reach out program. Confidence building measures in the shape of frequent police community meetings, service oriented conduct and improving the perception of police through positive media projection of success stories would offset the negative influence of such challenges.