17 February 2013

Rwanda: Five Years Later, Community Policing Yields Results

Last week was community policing week, a yearly opportunity to sensitize the population how they can assist the police at the village level in ensuring their own security.

Five years down the road, communities testify that there have been lower levels of crime since the initiative was introduced. However, many think that more efforts are still required to sensitize the public about the importance of the initiative and their responsibilities.

Aline Kamariza, the executive secretary of Bibare cell in Remera sector, hails the role of community policing in their neighborhood. "We all share information in our neighborhood because we feel it is our responsibility; it has not only helped us to live in a safe environment but also help in ensuring security in general for our country," Kamaliza says.

"Nothing can go undetected in our neighborhood because criminal plans are unearthed even before they are put in action," she adds.

Introduced in 2007, the community policing's main target was to involve the public in security by encouraging them to report any suspicious activities in their neighborhoods. According to Rwanda National Police (RNP) spokesman Theos Badege, community policing is a philosophy that promotes strategies to address the causes and fear of crime and social disorder through partnerships between the police and local communities.

"It is most located at the village level, up to the cell and sector level," he explains. "It has helped us to reduce all kinds of crime - theft, banks robberies, apprehending drug dealers and transporters and fighting drug abuse among youth."

Before the introduction of the system, the police mostly waited for crimes to occur in order to act. "As a result of limited communication with the community as well as viewing of the community as merely the source of information, the police and the community were alienated from each other," Badege observes.

The superintendent believes that nowadays, there is a growing expectation that the police must play a broader role. "Five years ago, the idea of a more flexible policing style with the emphasis on unique community expectation was receiving growing support; there were calls for a transformation from the traditional reactive type of policing to a more pro-active system with the aim of providing better services."

Today, the results of that change are palpable. Ange Rutayisire, a resident of Kalisimbi village in Kabeza sector (Kicukiro) points out that the security situation has dramatically changed with the introduction of community policing, and that today residents are quick to call the community policing team or even the police itself when they are suspicious about something.

"Before, a lot of crimes and offences would go unnoticed. I remember especially thefts cases, rapes, and other kinds of crimes. It was a kind of injustice that people were suffering with offences against them going unpunished," Rutayisire says. "I was myself attacked one night by thugs who took my bag, and they were never caught."

Today, she adds, that wouldn't be the case anymore. "In the past, there were a lot of burglaries but with the night guards (irondo) who are part of community policing, it's been a while without such issues. Even when it happens it doesn't take long to catch the culprits."

The initiative also compensates for the lack of police officers, whose numbers are still low. "With 1 police officer for 1000 citizens instead of 1 for at least 450, community policing is the way to go," says Internal Security Minister Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana. "This increases the police's effectiveness in crime prevention and at the same time ensures the community's security in a strong, effective and affordable manner."

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