“Community policing is about changing a police force into a police service”
Carolus Janssen, a Police Superintendent who grew up in an area of tulip fields to the south of Amsterdam, has spent over a year at EUPOL COPPS advising the Palestinian Civil Police on community policing, a philosophy which aims to ensure that police services work closely with their community to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.
“A community includes everyone in an area – schools, businesses, religious leaders, local government,” the Dutch adviser, who has over 36 years of experience in the police, says. “Community policing is all about the police responding to the needs of the community and being part of the community as a whole. Community policing is very important because it is one of the ways which can change policing, turning it from a traditional police force into a modern police service. As a police officer, you need to have a language for listening as well as a language for enforcing the law”.
Janssen underlines the usefulness of meeting with the community and working with them to tackle problems, “It’s the most effective way of policing. You are making yourself visible, accessible and proactive. You are the one who is translating and simplifying laws, make people understand what they can do themselves to help tackle the problem, and what action the police will take. This way you ensure a joint active community participation and a proactive police organisation, serving the community”.
Building a relationship of trust and with the community also means that community representatives will be more willing to provide important information that can lead to the arrest of people who are endangering the well-being of the community. “It’s not that difficult to get police officers to start walking around their community and saying hello to the butcher and baker. But the next level is switching to a mentality of sharing the information with other colleagues, and putting it on record, for example in a computer database, because the information you receive may be part of wider puzzle”.
The Dutch police expert gives an example from his own police career of how information sharing is useful in practice. “Many years ago, I was involved as a detective in a murder case. In the first days, we managed to identify two out of the three main suspects. But we couldn’t find any information on the third – all we knew was that it was a woman and her nickname. I managed to find a report which had been written six months previously, it was the record made by a police officer who had been called out to investigate a case involving a missing teenage girl. While the officer had been talking to the missing girl’s mother, a neighbour turned up and mentioned she made a new friend on the internet. The new friend had the same nickname as our murder suspect! All this was in the report. From that lead, we were able to track the suspect and bring them to justice”.
According to Janssen, a modern police organisation is one that knows how to use information effectively for the best interests of the people that it serves, “Every expert is an island. But in order to make a service you need to connect the islands. Drugs, trafficking, theft, domestic violence – information sharing is the basic level that needs to be done to fight them. Every police officer is an information broker”.
Janssen is very positive about working with his Palestinian counterparts. “The Palestinian colleagues are lovely, they are generous and always so positive in our interactions. It’s a tough job, you need courage, and they have taken big steps forward to deliver a better quality of human security. But like all over the world, everyone can do better”.
Asked specifically about the challenges facing the Palestinian Civil Police, Janssen says, “What is traditional in the Arab world is that security services are based on military structures and culture. When we talk about the police, ideally you want to change it from a system where you just respond to a call out in a car, to one where you walk around your community, talk to local people and think proactively about how problems can be solved. Change management is a huge task and many processes take years. But there’s a huge body of research which shows that a community policing approach is one that has positive effects on all areas – criminal investigations, family protection, traffic management, everything”.
Janssen also stresses the importance of police forces that are representative of the community, “A gender balanced police force is key to success,” he says. “Deployment of more female police officers will better reflect the composition of the community. Female citizens and others will feel more comfortable and understood by somebody they identify with”.
Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with British colleagues in Ramallah, Janssen supported the establishment of regular meetings between the PCP and the community. “It’s a good opportunity to listen to the community and take steps to address issues they think are a problem, for example, dumping cars or selling cigarettes to minors. At a meeting I attended, it was clear that a group of mothers were not happy that shop owners were selling single cigarettes to children, which is against the law. They asked the police to do more about this”.
Janssen hopes that the practice of meetings with the community can be revived soon. Until then, he will continue to advice the PCP on a strategic level to help encourage sustainable change in the way the police interacts with the community, and support reforms that will benefit the police as well as ordinary Palestinians.