x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Breaking the ice between police and the public

Breaking the ice between law enforcers and members of the community is key to tackling crime

National Editorial

There is a problem of perception when it comes to the relationship between the police and the public, which could be the result of limited informal contact and a lack of daily interaction in public places. The first in-depth survey of impressions of law and order in the UAE, conducted in 2010, revealed that many people would hesitate to call the police even if they were the victims of crime. That is because they feared that they might get into trouble if they reported a crime, or that their complaints might be dealt with in a slow and ineffective manner (so why bother). But clearly, none of this makes sense.

These misperceptions need to be dispelled. As The National reported yesterday, Mohammed Al Hosani, the deputy director of Abu Dhabi Police’s Social Support Centre, said that the police are working on a strategy to build public trust. As part of this initiative, Abu Dhabi Police are organising community-focused events, such as a three-day crime prevention forum next week.

Different groups have different perceptions. In the aforementioned survey, for example, Arab expatriates generally had the most positive attitude towards the police, whereas western expatriates were the most sceptical about the police’s ability to help them. And for Emirati or some Arab women, there are cultural restraints that leave them reluctant to deal with male police officers.

Changing perceptions will require deep efforts and take time. Community events, like the one organised by Abu Dhabi Police, go some ways towards addressing such changes. But perhaps another step might be for the public to begin to see police officers more frequently in informal settings – for example, walking a neighbourhood beat as opposed to patrolling in a radio car. This is the essence of community policing: officers aren’t there because there is a crime, but because they are an integral part of the community in good and bad times.

In this way, not only do officers get to learn the rhythm of neighbourhoods, but residents get to know them, too. Granted, the summer heat will preclude year-round patrolling like this – and besides, there will be few residents outside air-conditioned environments. But the malls are part of our urban landscape too.

Let the public get to know their local police better, and relations will be built for the benefit of all.