Keynote Speech on Community Engagement by Mr. Enrico Gaveglia, UNDP Maldives Resident Representative
Police Research and Innovation Conference 2023
March 20, 2023
Minister of Home Affairs, Honourable Imran Abdulla,
Commissioner of Police, Mohamed Hameed,
Chairpersons of the Police Board, Commissioner of Police (retired) Ahmed Faseeh,
Prosecutor General of the Maldives, Hussein Shameem,
And distinguished speakers and guests,
Assalaam Alaikum and a very good afternoon to everyone.
First, my congratulations to the Police Board, Ministry of Home Affairs and, Maldives Police Service, on this first Police Research and Innovation Conference. I have had a chance to interact with members of the Police Board and I am delighted to be here and be allowed in to witness this milestone event.
What we are witnessing are positive strides being made to embrace a new philosophy and approach to the policing profession. From a REACTIVE POLICE towards a PREVENTIVE POLICE with community engagement at the core of it.
Policing is the business of all because security and living a harmonious life with each other is a need of all, and safety, a peaceful coexistence, is a prerequisite keeping the shape of Rule of Law.
What is the first number we teach our kids about?
Who was the first stranger we told our kids to run into if in trouble?
Police is one of the most visible representatives of the state. One that doesn’t change its intent based on the politics of the day. And policing, when undertaken within a legal framework based on the rule of law, is a core element in building peaceful and prosperous societies.
Community policing, premised around decentralized community engagement, has emerged as a new practice in recent years and certainly a key component of celebrated policing reform on top of, of course investigation and digital drivers of change.
When police involves regular citizens directly in their work by building channels of dialogue and improving police-citizen collaboration, trust is built between police and the citizens because each is empowered and tasked to protect its courtyard. Effective policing requires a deep understanding of the communities that law enforcement serves.
A crucial aspect of the UN and UNDP's work globally in decentralized community engagement is the emphasis on promoting human rights and the rule of law. We recognize the critical role police play in upholding the human rights of citizens and protecting them from any harm. Ensuring safety of the public without discrimination or influence forms the core of human rights best practices.
The UN and UNDP have been working closely with governments and law enforcement agencies around the world to promote effective and accountable policing practices. This work is essential, as policing is a critical component of maintaining law and order and ensuring that citizens feel safe and secure.
Maldives is not the only country experiencing such shift in policing - In Garawol, a small town in eastern Gambia next to the Sudanese border, local security structures were set up, comprising community members of all ages, sexes, and demographics, including Persons with Disabilities. Since the installation of community policing, crime rates have decreased drastically in this small border town. The main result is documented about people no longer regarding police officers as strangers in their midst. Police officers patrolling the streets actively engage with the community to mitigate criminalities and low-level crimes and violations, before there is a call for their service. This has helped in preventing more serious crimes from occurring.
So not only response efficiency in Police Response – but listen, proactively search and prevent, ask, survey, search – engage with communities to get their regular inputs about crime, disorder and activities that generate fear. By consulting people, police show that they care about the needs of individual citizens and establish two-way communications to prioritize problems and the approaches needed to address them.
The end objective is therefore often subsumed into more ambitious objectives – so as much as reducing crime and insecurity, being able to strengthen state-society relations is a major achievement in itself.
Citizen participation in issues such as public safety, education, and environmental decision-making can serve positive institutional functions, and community policing initiatives can leverage practices such as community environment policing.
Communities impacted by crises for example, are ideally located to perform testing due to their proximity and experience. The agencies that do respond to complaints often get there too late to take viable, accurate data, but the community is already there. This can involve and empower people who would be otherwise left out of the process with the risk of important information being lost. Instead, they are involved in a meaningful, positive way.
Promoting access and involvement of marginalized communities such as women, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups, are key factors significant to the success of community policing.
Reports and studies show that police operations are more successful when a greater number of female officers participate. That the inclusion of female officers increases community trust. That female officers are often better positioned to meet the needs of women and girls in their community, and they improve the response to gender-based crimes.
Women’s active participation, including mainstreaming gender in community policing and on all levels and across all sectors is fundamental. Therefore, it is crucial to survey through an intersectional lens the different challenges facing women in the peace and security sector, and ways out. This includes equality of opportunity and the empowerment of women in the community policing sector.
Another element that determines the success of community engagement initiatives in policing is Procedural Justice. Police officers can build trust and respect of citizens by treating them fairly and respectfully, regardless of who they are, or where they come from.
Similarly, Restorative Justice is an approach that can be used to repairing harm caused by crime by involving offenders, victims, and the community in the process of addressing the underlying causes of crime and finding ways to prevent it in the future.
But, we do acknowledge that police-citizen interaction is often-complex. In countries where community policing has not lived up to its promise, some identified constraints that may have impeded the implementation of community policing include: a lack of prioritization of these new practices; the rotation of police officers who had championed the effort and were trained to implement it; and limited resources to follow up on the concerns raised by citizens.
Community policing therefore can be seen as an incremental reform that can make a difference with adequate resources and strong incentives to be responsive to citizen concerns.
Yet, we cannot discount how decentralized community engagement is an ideal policy for this moment to address equity in the way governments enforce the law, and community policing can construct a virtuous cycle between citizen-police cooperation, trust, and crime reduction.
Here today at this first Police Research and Innovation Conference, is also an opportune moment to look ahead. The future of policing should harness the potential impact of emerging technologies, changing social norms, and evolving criminal threats. There are opportunities that lie ahead for law enforcement.
The latest technological advancements in policing, including AI, facial recognition, drones, body-worn cameras, and other tools can help law enforcement agencies to not only solve crimes more efficiently and effectively, but in effectively connect with and assist communities.
Technology has the potential to transform the way policing is delivered in a decentralized manner and closer to the communities. We must take a holistic approach and learn to harness technology if policing is to deliver a service that is fit for purpose in this day and age. A mobile workforce, the methods to gather data, and process and analyze data to make decisions quickly; the need to engage with communities via multiple channels, the ability to respond to communities and individuals are all wholly integral to effective policing.
In conclusion, decentralized community engagement in policing has been shown to improve community trust and cooperation with law enforcement officials, reduce crime rates, and increase community safety.
The emphasis on ‘society, community, everyone, togetherness’ is already part of Maldives Police Services’ tagline.
I see here great promise. A force that’s part of the community - that’s protecting them and serving them. The day that you’d feel comfortable sharing the number of a police officer with your daughter or son, then that’s the day you’d could say with a certain degree of confidence that you have transitioned into an effective and powerful civil force of a state, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order.