In simple terms, community policing refers to the participation of members of a community in the fight against crime.
Criminals are members of the society and reside within the community. If members of the community are involved in the fight against crime, it implies that there will be no hiding place for criminals. In community policing, members of the community are expected to watch out for criminals or criminal activities in their communities and report same to the police, who will then swoop on the criminals.
Nigeria is a nation where nearly everything is either rhetorical or political. There was a time when rapid response approaches where the in-thing around the world. We adopted it too. Funny enough, Nigeria is the only place where a rapid response squad can sometimes have an operational vehicle without fuel in it. Now that we are hearing about community policing in the developed nations of the world, we have decided to also have it without taking time to do what it takes for such a tactic of crime fighting to succeed.
There are cases of financial swindlers better known as 4-1-9ners who live among the people. When reported to the police, the security agents come, arrest them and release them almost immediately even though their deeds are obvious. This is the single most important reason why 4-1-9 has thrived in Nigeria. Since the public has come to see the police and criminals as partners in progress, the feeling is that if you report a criminal to the police, the security men will in turn reveal your identity to the criminal who comes back to hunt you. This evil tradition has eroded any faith the public would have had in the Nigerian Police. It is the reason why the police ought to have known that community policing will work only when certain things are in place.
The case of the Niger Delta is a conspicuous and ideal scenario where community policing has failed because the public lacks faith in the police. In their frustration, the police sometimes resort to dealing with innocent citizens in the belief that they are aiding the hoodlums.
When members of the fundamentalist Islamic militia, Boko Haram, discovered that coming out to confront the police in an all out battle will not work for them, they resorted to undercover approaches where they sporadically lunch attacks on victims and then disappear into the public. In view of how deadly they are, killing the police, other Islamic preachers who don’t roll with their religious philosophy and anybody who stands in their way in any way, the public has learnt to remain safe by standing on the fence. This has worked frustrate community policing at a time when it is, more than ever, desired.
For a government that loves and holds their citizens in high esteem, the police is one organization that should have enjoyed utmost attention. Successive governments have sadly failed to see it that way leading gradual and total decay in the Nigerian Police.
The force has been so ignored that the best materials from our schools consider themselves too superior to spend their lives in a force that is not respected by the people it is meant to serve. The outcome is that people who eventually sign up for the force are mostly those who don’t seem to have an option because they have not been able to compete for the most enviable jobs. Still this problem is complicated by absence of best practices in recruitment exercise where politics and godfathers determine who gets taken rather than merit..
One outcome of the challenges with which the force is faced is the ignorance that runs through the ranks. The ignorance in many police personal is so grim that many policemen are of the superstition that criminals are sometimes invincible that facing them will only amount to a senseless risk of ones life. Ironically, the police are an organization where a strong belief in laid down principles and intelligent research is fundamental to the success of its operations.
It has been said that corruption is one bedrock reasons why the Nigerian Police has grossly underperformed. People are susceptible to corruption when they are underpaid to a point where they can not afford the basic needs of life. Members of the Nigerian Police will also want to live in better homes, place meals on their tables and with ease, enroll their children in good schools, drive cars and avoid been seen as societal failures. Most police officers cannot afford all these with legitimate incomes and feel cheated by the rest of society. Thus they set up road blocks not for the sake of enforcing the law but to generate enough to enable them meet their routine demands of life. The twenty naira (N20) policemen receive at check points is the reason why somebody can beat checkpoints with contraband, such as bombs or dangerous weapons and eventually hurt the society. Naturally, there is that tendency to overlook the real issues once bribes are the preoccupation of their minds.
The Nigerian government must be interested in what goes on within the Nigerian police force. To this end, their professional needs should be provided regularly and not only when there is increased social instability or increased criminal activities. The men of the Nigerian Police must attend and pass the relevant courses in the profession. Furthermore, promotion should be based on excellence and the ability to apply the things learnt in their trainings rather than just passing the courses or serving for a long time.