This is a short article on why there seems to be a high level of mistrust among the police and the community globally. I aim to highlight why trusting the police is pertinent and point out some key issues and recommendations that are relevant for the police and communities in developing collaborative strategies for the future.
The world sees the police as crime preventers and law enforcers, which is why they are necessary for a functioning society. At its most fundamental level of duty, the police deal with problems that the general public cannot or does not want to deal with. As a result, their mission is to serve, protect, reduce crime fear, and improve the quality of life for all citizens. Despite this, why does the general public have a negative attitude towards law enforcement officers? Why is it frightening to be pulled over by a cop, without being a culprit? Why do people avoid associating themselves with the police? Do they fear wrongdoing or discrimination? Or are they afraid of being oppressed by law keepers?
Due to many ongoing incidents involving police using force, the legitimacy of the police has been called into question in many communities and they are seen in a negative light. It could be civil unrest over police brutality after the death of George Floyd or as recently as police firing tear gas in Indonesia over a football pitch invasion, killing around 125 people. It could be students being attacked for peaceful protests in Iran or by reacting to comments against the monarchy following Queen Elizabeth II’s death. It could be due to a delayed response in a confrontation with the gunman of a school shooting resulting in the deaths of innocent people, where an entire police force was suspended .Underlying these incidents could be racial discrimination and lack of inclusivity. Moreover, controversial use of force by police or aggressive policing tactics may contribute to a general dislike of them. In some cases, a perceived “egregious transgression” not only undermines local community trust, but also undermines public trust in the police in general by gaining national attention. This is far more common in conflict-torn countries, where there is often a chasm of mistrust between police and government on the one hand, and citizens and communities on the other.
Making matter even more complex, a colonial past in many nations has a lot to do with associating police with corruption, dominance, and incompetence. In his book “The Indian Police: A Study in Fundamentals”, 1993, D. N Gautam asserted that ” The police did not have a positive or a constructive role. They were employed only as an instrument for the perpetuation of the colonial role ” . As a result, this mindset could have become so ingrained in the Indian society that dispelling this long-held perception of the police has become even more difficult.
While the aforementioned factors have indeed harmed the police-community relationship; the media’s portrayal of law enforcement agencies has been adding fuel to the fire. A simple act of investigation if portrayed in a negative light, can sabotage a police officer’s overall image. This can be compared to the military receiving more compassion than the police. There may be a misconception that military personnel choose guns to protect citizens while police officers choose guns to protect themselves exclusively.
Although there is a wealth of literature on trust and police in every state, many I believe have been futile in addressing the issues raised here. As I understand it, community policing is a collaborative approach to addressing specific issues. For instance, if the police are involved in an ongoing problem, they would rather involve everyone in order to understand the problem and make a decision on how to best combat the problem rather than resolving it on their own by passing a decision. Despite this, many successful police reformatory measures have gone unnoticed. Their quiet presence in a wide range of security service activities is frequently overlooked.
I believe that if the police broaden their role beyond that of law enforcement officers to that of community builders, the world may see a positive shift in attitude as well as a significant reduction in crime. Having said that, I am convinced that the police and the community are inseparable, and that favorable reforms are required to maintain the trust relationship.
Finally, I would say, Police may have become great protectors but have forgotten to serve the citizens. Therefore, it’s critical to understand the fine line between enforcement and outreach. Strong mutual trust relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve are essential for maintaining public safety and effective policing.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are mine.
Garima Gautam, student intern at the ICT4COP Center, NMBU
Note: ICT4COP projects have made a significant contribution to the addition of literature aimed at filling knowledge and competence gaps especially to improve human security in post-conflict settings. The following readings are very enlightening that offer an understanding.