Photo credit: UNDP Kazakhstan

Community policing is transforming the police force in Kazakhstan. In 2018, in his annual address to the nation, the President announced that the national police force would become a community service model that would transform policing in Kazakhstan. 

The new strategy should gradually change the “us vs them” paradigm that is deeply entrenched in people’s psyche. The concept that the “police does not punish but helps in a difficult situation” is a novel perception that is being gradually put into practice. 

Establishing security and enhancing personal and public safety are essential components of the “Kazakhstan-2050” vision. The strategy aims to diversify the economy through innovation, human capital investment and integration into international trade. It also aims to strengthen governance, increase public service quality, improve human rights protection, and ameliorate the country's business climate. All these goals need a well-functioning law enforcement system to succeed. 

The first steps in reorienting the police towards a community policing model have already been taken by Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan (MIA). Building people’s trust is not an easy task and a long road lies ahead before good relations between citizens and police officers are established. However, pilot projects are currently being implemented representing a step in the right direction. 

UNDP steps in with upskilling police officers 

In 2020, a joint two-year project was launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the MIA. The partnership was established to provide support in the development and the piloting of the community police model in Kazakhstan. During 2020-2021, UNDP developed community police program/training courses on community policing services (situational prevention) and community policing results, which were based on a reporting system, data gathering and operational analysis. 

"In April 2021, I participated in a seminar by a UNDP interagency cooperation expert on conditions surrounding police reforms focused on establishing public order. The training content tailored to the local context was very useful in our current stage of transitioning to a police service model,” said Police Colonel R. Erlan, Associate Professor, Department of Professional Psychological Training and Management, M. Esbulatov Academy of MIA in Almaty. 

District police officers, various police departments and teaching staff of the Esbulatov Academy took part in the trainings. Juan Belikov, an internationally renowned multilingual expert on defence, law-enforcement and intelligence sector reforms, community policing and security institution-building, was invited to design and deliver this programme.

“After attending Juan Belikov’s seminars I realized what an important role adequate skill sets play for those going through the process of transitioning to the service model. The fact that the trainer is an international expert who speaks the local language was very valuable”, said Police Colonel Maira Nurusheva, Deputy Head of the Department of General Legal Disciplines, M. Esbulatov Academy of MIA, Almaty.  

Comprehensive support of UNDP also included other related activities. Over 100 representatives of the MIA were trained in modern practices of project management. Practical tasks, real life cases, educational projects, basic principles, and processes of project management were covered by the programme. In addition, human resources management trainings were specifically designed for senior police representatives to provide necessary skills and knowledge at the start of the new reform. 

As a result of the UNDP – MIA partnership a detailed methodology for gradual introduction of the community policing model was developed. The new approach to policing is expected to be introduced nationwide over the next three to five years. 

Types of policing – community policing the outright winner

A well-known research study from 1968 by social and political scientist James Q. Wilson identified three distinct policing models -- the watchman, legalistic and service, or community policing styles . 

A watchman policing style focuses on the broader goal of maintaining overall public order. The police force’s task is to resolve disputes and maintain order, but not to proactively prevent disputes. 

A legalistic style emphasises violations of the law with policing organizations seeing themselves as enforcers of the law. With this style, often, a police officer issues a fine for the driver, who drives at a speed of 61 km/h on the highway for exceeding the speed limit of 60 km/h, as this ensures compliance with the law. Legalistic-style policing organizations avoid getting involved in public controversy arising from violations of social norms that do not violate the law. 

The escalation of crime and violence experienced by modern democratic societies led to a review of existing policing models which, in addition to being ineffective, began to erode trust in the police and, by extension, in the state in general. 

A revision of outdated policing methods and consideration of communities’ current needs led many police forces to shift from a traditional reactive form of policing to a community-oriented approach. A new model arose, known as Community Policing, which prioritizes tasks aimed at preventing incidents of violence and crime from occurring over the mere reaction to an event, and at strengthening of community resilience. 

Community policing organizations strive to meet the needs of the community and to serve its members. Policemen see themselves as friends of the community rather than soldiers fighting crime. Crime is a community problem, not just a policing problem . Therefore, building a partnership with the community is one of the main principles of this model. Police organizations of this style collaborate with social services and other agencies to provide positive assistance to minors and offenders, to help community groups to prevent crime and violence and to resolve their problems. Alternative methods are often used to resolve conflicts and disagreements.

An innovative type of policing -- the statistics speak for themselves

In almost all cases, community policing has proven to be the best model that guarantees freedom and, at the same time, enforces the law in strict compliance with human rights and democratic freedom of the individual and adopts a gender-based approach and criteria of broad social inclusion in order to provide better police services to minorities, young people and other vulnerable social groups.

Globally, the tangible results of the community policing model approach speak for themselves. After establishing the new model, Ecuador achieved a 24 percent drop in homicides, a 10 decrease in shoplifting, a 7 percent drop in armed robberies and an 8 percent decline in vehicle theft in just one year (2013-2014). Latvia, a country affected by drug-trafficking, implemented a community police pilot station in Talsi where a 28 percent decrease in registered crimes and a 27 percent downturn in robbery took place; and simultaneously a 26 percent increase in the positive perception of police performance from 2009 to 2012. In the United States, the New York police have seen the major felony crime rate drop 5.3 percent across the city from 2013-2015 and manifold success stories have occurred as a result of their modified procedures. 

Proactive preventive community policing, which focuses on solving the underlying problems of the community together with the community, rather than reacting to incidents that these problems cause, has yielded excellent results. To date, more than 60 countries have embraced this policing model with Kazakhstan being a pioneer in the Central Asian region. It’s about vanquishing the “us vs them” confrontational model of traditional police forces and about building community partnerships for more effective policing and better police-community relations.

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