How easily can democratic policing replace authoritarian policing? Is it possible to adapt the concept of community policing to local environments in developing countries? The case studies in this paper from the Vera Institute of Justice suggest that efforts to introduce community policing often run in to serious difficulties and can be hindered by low levels of professionalism of police agencies, public disrespect for law enforcement and lack of community organisation. The case studies also suggest that there is no one ideal uniform model for community policing because both local context and history are very influential on success.
Countries in the developing world have tried to move to community policing as a way to make the police more accountable to their citizens. However, community policing was developed in Western democracies in very different conditions to these countries. The case studies show how the concept has been adapted in Brazil, Haiti, Uganda and South Africa.
- The chance for structural reform was best in countries with high-level support of the initiative and extensive grassroots community organisations.
- In situations with little support from top police officers, little grassroots support, police agencies with inadequate resources, corruption problems and/or lack of public good will there will be significant problems.
- In these situations community policing is likely to be an isolated effort, limited to a few demonstration sites (for example Brazil) or to small groups of officials while the rest of the police force goes on with business as usual (for example Uganda and Haiti).
- In Brazil, which is regarded as a relative success, NGOs and foreign governments played a key role in initiating and supporting community-policing efforts.
- In Western democracies implementations often fall short of expectations and significant change in community perceptions of the police, fear of crime and crime rates are unusual and so in developing countries with meagre funds and built on shaky police, community relations do not always persist.
The Western community-policing model is meant to achieve a handful of goals, mainly improving police-community relations and making strategic structural changes to police organisations by decentralising authority and encouraging public participation. In the case studies and sites considered they were only partially moving towards these ends. Other points to consider:
- Countries coping with histories marred by brutality, violence and corruption will have social environments that are hostile to policing.
- Community policing programs should involve genuine effort toward reform.
- Neighbourhood patrols can help promote social control instead of dynamically transforming the community-police relationship.
- The input from foreign government and NGOs can be crucial in situations like Brazil where decentralisation led to experimentation with different models and the availability of technology advanced accountability and transparency.
- Raising expectations without true reform is likely to increase the rift between citizens and the police.