Toward realizing ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’ in the Philippines Part I

September which kicks off the ‘ber’ months not only has national and local media playing Christmas songs but also warning citizens of increased criminal activity. As if to drive home their point, the media deliver daily reports of criminal actions. And poor audiences, we think – molded to think – that indeed criminal activity goes hand in hand with ‘ber’ months (or, in this country, the Christmas season). But, if only audiences make an effort to check on the statistics, this is not so. In 2011, criminal activity in Metro Manila peaked in June (read here).

Further supporting the so-called increased criminal activity within this season are the increased visibility of police in the streets (in Metro Manila at least) and related to this, the directive that the police report to the Local Government Units.

On the whole, if you look closely at how crime is being addressed, national and local policy is too focused on the police as the solution. It is expected that by making the police more visible, more accessible to the bidding of local chief executives, etc., this will heighten the fear in criminals or anyone contemplating to defy the law and that this fear will act as internal restraint to the commitment of crime or defiance. But real life as we know it is more complicated than this and cannot be easily slotted into such expectation of the policy. Psychologists can tell you that fear alone cannot curb defiance of the law in humans (especially so-called hardened criminals and those who commit crime because of the drive to survive).

In their publication, Urban Safety and Good Governance: The Role of the Police, the UN Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS-Habitat) and International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) suggest that

Security is not the sole responsibility of the police but is more an issue of good urban governance. In other words, security is a collective task of all citizens under the coordination of local authorities.

This perspective

…however presuppose(s) a change of outlook and culture within the police and local and national authorities. The process requires time, investment, training, fieldwork, a sense of partnership, evaluation, and an adequate institutional framework.

And that these “police reforms” should be pursued “within an urban democratic context.” Focus on the use of police force such as congregating them on the streets reeks of authoritarian rule or even reminds those who’ve experienced it martial law. While the intention may be good, it actually makes the wrong impression. And as those who’ve experienced martial law (or corporal punishment) like to say, it doesn’t solve the root of the problem. In the extreme, it inordinately hardens the spirit (and so the hardened criminals – at least those who are not without biological afflictions – whose childhood backgrounds are characterized with violence and absence of love in their families or home environment).

The publication mentioned above mentions two key words to police reforms: proactive approaches through a problem-oriented policing, and community-based policing (approaches).

Problem-oriented policing entails a

a dynamic public safety diagnostic process…in which institutions other than the police, such as NGOs and citizens, play a central role. It includes the identification and description of problems in a district through (1) detailed analysis and consultation with citizens, (2) strategic planning to establish priorities and means of action, and (3) assessment to target the impact of action taken and make the necessary changes efficiently. This approach provides an opportunity to forge lasting cooperation between the police and institutional and community partners.

Administrative and Organizational Changes. Source: Urban Safety and Good Governance: The Role of the Police, UNCHS and ICRC

Community (street-level) policing is

based on the concept of geographical responsibility (which) seeks closer contact with citizens while contributing to the development of local knowledge and expertise. (It) is basically a professional police model spanning the continuum between two major poles: the community-based approach and problem-oriented policing.

The publication cites Japan’s koban as an example of a community-based approach. It is “composed of community mini stations and focusing on problem-oriented policing which includes the essential characteristic of close interaction between citizens and police. It is considered an integral part of the community.”

The community or street-level policing and the koban remind me that here in the barangays we do have the council of tanods (Barangay Crime Prevention Council) whose primary task is neighborhood policing and that barangays are supposed to have outposts manned by the tanods. Assurance of security in communities is in fact decentralized via this structure. And securing communities or making communities safe is said to be institutionalized when this aspect of decentralization is working.

Unfortunately, we have the structure and human resource but these are not put to use. In an earlier article, I’ve mentioned something about looking around the country first for best practices to replicate before setting eyes abroad. And this is another case to that.

When security is integrated into community objectives, policing becomes a proactive bottoms-up approach. Because if you think about it, where do criminals live? In barangays, surely. Where are crimes committed? In the streets of barangays or community centres, in establishments or residences along streets of barangays or community centres. In other words, in communities.

Unless the State can deploy a sizeable number of police force in every barangay to instigate and manage a community policing strategy at the same time man the barangays’ outposts 24/7, security in communities is a “collective task of all citizens under the coordination of local authorities.” In this, essentially, the police force isn’t reporting but instead coordinating and collaborating with LGUs (because the LGU has its own structure – the tanod system – which it should ramp up).

In connection to the introductory paragraph, media, by highlighting (through heightened visual and oral delivery) the criminal acts is actually impressing on audiences that such crimes are worthy of attention to the extent that these are made bigger than life to the effect that audiences feel helpless against these and are pushed to think that the “best” solution is to watch your backs, keep a sharp object or perhaps a gun for defense somewhere, etc. As for the police, dump them on the streets if only for the added fear factor. On the whole, it makes everyone fearful and distrustful of each other. Like Gotham City gone madder. An unhealthy environment. And unlike Gotham there’s no oozing-rich-socially-conscious Batman to save the day. The point here is, media is part of that collective citizenry and its role in shaping minds and attitudes is that it should present criminality with intelligent discussion.

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