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Police ‘must bridge rift with community’

Gulf Daily News of Bahrain (03/05/2003)

By Sara Horton

THE police need to become an accepted and active part of the community to decrease crime and increase national stability, says a Bahraini legal specialist.

Yusuf Dashti, who spent a year working with a police community relations section in San Antonio, Texas, US, says that incidents like the New Year rioting may not have happened if police were closer to the people.

The rioting was an expression of police and community tensions, he says.

Fifty-five people were arrested when hundreds of youths rampaged on Exhibition Avenue in Manama, damaging seven hotels, two restaurants and 125 vehicles. Bahrain is going through a huge transformation with the advent of democracy and the role of the police must change with it, said Mr Dashti, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and is a Master of Laws.

The police and citizens are unsure of their rights and responsibilities towards each other during this transitional period and it is up to the Interior Ministry to spell this out, he said.

Mr Dashti, currently working as Commerce Ministry company affairs legal adviser, believes that community policing, where police are seen to be active members of society and are more aware of the problems facing citizens, would have a beneficial impact on the country as a whole.

Police would receive more assistance from the public and be recognised as a legitimate force to enforce the law.

They would also be made aware of potential trouble spots and troublemakers by their community sources, giving them the opportunity to prevent crime.

More Bahrainis should also be recruited to the police force, says Mr Dashti, so people don’t feel that the law is being imposed upon them by outsiders, but that it is being upheld by their neighbours.

Community relations sections should be set up in police stations throughout the country, which would involve specially trained local people and ensure that policemen became part of the community, said Mr Dashti.

For example, police could form football teams to play with local youngsters, thereby proving that they are not only interested in dealing with crime but also becoming friends with and helping the people they police.

The sections should also be responsible for educating people about the law and its importance, so it is seen as a valuable tool to ensure security for all, not as an authoritarian way of repressing people.

“The essence of the problem is the absence of general agreement between the police and community,” said Mr Dashti.

“The police need to stop touring around in their jeeps and glaring at people and start getting out and shaking hands.

”If police are closer to the community then they can remove the fear barrier between them.

“They will know more about people’s problems and be able to gather intelligence to prevent crime.

”If they get close to problem families by organising things like picnics with them and playing football with them it will stop them thinking that they have to run as soon as they see the police.“

Mr Dashti worked with a US community relations section while studying for his Bachelor’s degree at Southwest Texas State University in the 1980s.

The section recruited members of the community and trained them as police officers. They dealt with a wide range of problems, including drug abuse and child prostitution, by organising community activities and talking to troubled youths.

They used peer pressure to their advantage by persuading young people to act as good examples and help others put their criminal behaviour behind them.

Although Mr Dashti acknowledges that the section was not able to stop crime entirely, it was able to reduce it.

”We knew where people were sniffing glue because of our community relations and were able to go there and try to talk to them,“ he said.

”We were reducing the death rate and trying to force young people to go back to school.

“We also used good children to help problem children.”

One of the key issues facing Bahrain is the problem of establishing a new approach for the police and a new understanding of their role for the people.

“We are in a transitional stage to democracy and the police need to be taught how to deal with this and that they can’t be authoritarian,” said Mr Dashti.

“The metamorphosis must come from the police.

”However, the people need to understand that with freedom comes responsibility and that the police have the right to enforce the law.

“The Interior Ministry has to inform the public about the changes that are going on and ensure that they understand that the police are here for the benefit of the community.”

Involving Bahrainis in the community relations sections would be a first step towards involving them more in law enforcement.

This is key to ensuring that they feel a pride in and respect for the country’s police force.

To ensure that incidents such as the riots do not happen again, the government needs to examine a variety of key issues, of which policing is one.

“The situation that Bahrain is facing now and the discord that the youth are facing are symptoms of fundamental problems such as poverty, discrimination, unemployment and the Bahraini society’s inability to handle legitimate social problems,” remarked Mr Dashti.

“On the other hand the police are under-trained, under-educated and strangers to Bahraini society (the majority being non-Bahraini).”

With a better relationship between the police and the community the police would have been forewarned about the riots and been able to both put people off joining them and to deal with the situation more effectively.

Training police to deal with demonstrations and basic crowd control would also ensure that situations do not get out of hand as the New Year’s Eve riots did.

However, people also need to learn to respect them.

“The police are a part of our community and created by our community and meet our basic social needs,” said Mr Dashti.

“They are striving to achieve better harmonisation in our increasingly complex society in which isolation, alienation, poverty, unemployment and polarisation are widespread.”

“The Bahraini police and the Bahraini community are not merely a relationship existing beside each other, but a union of the same values ordained to meet the basic social harmony for the good of all, the Bahraini citizens, our guests and our GCC brothers.”