Who is the “community” in COP?

“Community” is a constructed term. While it is commonplace to think of a community as a unified or homogenous group, this is most often not the case. Using the term “local community”, we generally refer to the population of a specific area. Within local communities, however, there are often a variety of groups and individuals with various identities, interests, capabilities, challenges and needs. In most “communities”, power is distributed unequally among groups and individuals. Some individuals belong to elites of various kinds (political, economic, ethnic, religious, etc.), while others belong to more marginalized groups. For an “outsider”, the on-going micropolitics of a “community” may easily be overlooked.

The police do not operate in a vacuum and are thus affected by or connected to local politics. Various groups in a society will have different experiences with the police and police services, in terms of degree of access and the way in which they are treated. Some groups may historically have obtained certain advantages and thus experience favouritism from the police. Others may be, or feel, discriminated against. Local politics have major implications for community-police relations, including the ways in which the police are trusted and regarded as legitimate by the local community. You may read more here.

It is important to be aware of other relevant groups and initiatives at local levels that also play an important role in the provision of human security, beyond police and civilians. These can include both government organizations such as health organizations that provide care to a population, or civil society organizations that have specific competencies and knowledge of vulnerable groups. It is crucial to be familiar with these groups and view them as potential partners who can help the police become better acquainted with the community, rather than as an existential threat.

Considering the diversity within a community, implementing COP should include an effort to “unpack” the concept of community together with your host counterpart. This can be achieved through the following exercises:

  • Listing the different social groups with their specific insecurities and vulnerabilities
  • Identifying local power holders and gatekeepers
  • Mapping and analysing the micropolitics and unequal local power relations in society
  • Recognizing the processes of discrimination and marginalization, and paying special attention to the specific needs of the most vulnerable groups
  • Locating strategies to involve different societal groups in COP efforts to accommodate for their varying security needs