September 2023

Religious Coexistence Enhanced by Community Policing

The concept of police brutality is not foreign to Sri Lanka and many commentators have accused the police of employing violence and abusing the law in the name of maintaining public order and national security. Due to the three decade war, the police has had to transform itself into a battle ready force; it is common for police officers to carry assault rifles.

NPC through the Action for Religious Reconciliation (ARC) project has engaged in the creation of Local Inter Religious Committees (LIRCs) nationwide with the purpose of preventing, mitigating and fostering better relations between different religious communities. The LIRCs work with a wide range of stakeholders in their respective communities with the purpose of fostering an environment in which pluralism thrives, enabling religious coexistence and religious harmony. LIRCs have identified the police as key stakeholders in fostering religious coexistence and religious harmony. Still, it was identified that the community lack confidence in the police as public interaction with the police has been a vertical partnership as opposed to a horizontal partnership in combating crime.

The police have often failed to gain public trust and confidence as it has operated on the basis that the citizen is subservient to the police in fighting crime. Therefore police engagement with society has been minimal. However, this position is futile in combating religious and communal violence as opposed to general forms of criminal deviance. The police have recognised that it is necessary to foster good relations with the public in combating and preventing religious violence and tension, which has seen an upsurge in post conflict Sri Lanka.

COPS stands for Citizens Oriented Policing Services, meaning that citizens play an important role in maintaining public security in their areas. This is because citizens protect their society from issues that infringe on the rights and liberties of others in society.

In Bandarawela and Mawanella NPC, with the support of its partner organizations, held a community policing training workshop to improve public confidence and trust in the police. Targeting around 200 officers in the police, frontline service providers and high ranking members of the public, the training introduced the importance of community policing and how community policing has been employed in different countries in the region to tackle crime and prevent religious violence. Beneficiaries were introduced to the concept of how having good relations with the public would allow the police to combat crime more effectively as the community would assist the police in carrying out their duties.

“The training revolutionised the concept of policing,” according to participants. They said that it allowed them to break away from the notion that the public was subservient to the police. They believed that such an approach to policing would enable the public to participate in maintaining the security of their communities. This would allow the police to become more inclusive as the public would cooperate with the police in preventing and mitigating crime in their communities.