Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Community helps police improve image

Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

That night, bus driver Sudarman could not believe that he was sitting and chatting casually with local police officers.

"I understand now that the police are just ordinary people, some of them really bad, some good. We can't say that all of them are bad," said the native of Pandean village.

Such friendly contact is now possible under a project known as Community-Oriented Policing (COP), which started in November and is scheduled to end this October.

The idea for the project -- with the aim of providing support for the reform process within the Indonesian Police (Polri), came from the Center for Human Rights Studies at the Indonesian Islamic University (Pusham UII) in Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta Police chief Brig. Gen Sudirman praised the program, saying it contributed a great deal to cutting down crime rates in areas where the project was implemented by up to 20 percent, as well as breaking the ice in the relationship between members of the community and the police.

COP is the continuation of a human rights training program for members of the police, organized by Pusham UII some two years ago. The goal of the training was to provide participating police with basic knowledge on human rights, hoping they would no longer do their job in whatever way they liked.

COP is currently implemented in three police subprecincts -- Depok Barati in Sleman regency, and Mergangsan and Umbulharjo, Yogyakarta municipality.

Each of the selected area has serious and specific security problems. Depok Barat, for instance, used to be prone to vehicle theft. In Umbulharjo, residents used to take the law into their own hands whenever they caught lawbreakers, while Mergangsan was infamous for daylight robbery.

Under the sponsorship of the Asia Foundation, the project is carried out via the creation and development of a sound partnership between the police and community, through problem- solving approaches that meet the community's needs and requests.

According to COP program manager Eko Prasetyo, such a partnership was aimed at strengthening civil society's capacity to monitor and improve police performance and practice, based on principles of transparency, accountability and respect for human rights.

The program aims to develop a two-way interaction between the police and the community in handling security-related problems -- mainly security protection for the community in general and vulnerable groups like children, women, the disabled and crime victims.

"Hopefully, a sound partnership between the police and community will eventually be formed," Eko told The Jakarta Post.

The program mostly creates more opportunities for the community and police to interact and discuss security-related problems and seek solutions. A monthly meeting is held in each of the pilot project areas. Additional meetings, at the request of either party, are also welcomed.

"Each meeting always ends with an agreed solution to a particular security problem that people have identified as requiring urgent and serious action by the police," Eko said.

A task force consisting of representatives of the community was also set up at each of the designated areas, with its main task being to mediate between the police and community, as well as to make sure the police sincerely implemented agreed solutions to problems.

For instance, to reduce the level of daylight and motorcycle theft, the community required the police to extend and increase their patrols to narrow village alleys. The police, on the other hand, required the residents be more alert with regard to criminal activities in their neighborhoods by quickly informing them about suspicious activities.

"In a housing complex, for example, housewives are now taking part in a daylight patrol to prevent daylight robbery in their complex," Eko said.

He insisted the program was not designed to make civilians take over the job of the police. On the contrary, the police, in consultation with the community they serve, design and implement solutions to crime-related issues in a transparent and accountable manner.

Eko said the program had proved to be a success, as well as helping to improve the image of the police. "The program has received a positive response from the public," he said.

Head of Umbulharjo Police subprecinct Sr. Com. Adj. Musni Arifin said that since the project had started it had cut down the crime rate by up to 16 percent on average.

"I don't know whether it's simply been a coincidence, but it's a fact," he told Umbulharjo residents at a recent monthly meeting held jointly with local residents from Gambiran Baru hamlet, Pandean.

Arifin said the program was quite relevant to the police reform program, especially in changing the previously militaristic and oppressive attitude of the police to one of protector and servant of the community.

In future, the program could also be adopted by other police subprecincts across the country.

"The main challenge faced by the Indonesian National Police at present is to be able to respond adequately and swiftly to the increasing needs and expectations of citizens for a secure and safe environment. This project is one of the ways to make it come true," said Herbin Marulak Siahaan of the Asia Foundation.