Community Policing in Aileu Municipality: Progress and Challenges

The Community Policing program was first established in 2014 in Ainaro and Manufahi Municipalities, then expanding to all Municipalities in Timor-Leste and reaching Lautem in 2019. The establishment of community policing structures at the national, municipal and suku level was based on the 2018 PNTL Strategic Plan, which introduced the VIP – Visibility, Involvement and Professionalism – concept of community policing. Visibility means that the police should develop a closer presence in communities, involvement means that the community should be involved in maintaining security, and professionalism means that the police should respond to problems in a professional manner so that the community feels more secure. The community policing program has been supported by international partners, particularly The Asia Foundation (TAF) and the New Zealand Government. Fundasaun Mahein (FM) sees that the community policing philosophy is important to involve communities more closely with security actions, which can prevent communal conflict by identifying, mediating and evaluating social, economic and security problems.

FM’s monitoring has found that the implementation of the community policing program has shown positive progress and results overall, and has contributed to reduced crime and making communities feel safer. However, the program has also faced various problems and challenges. For example, the Community Policing Council (KPK) members all work voluntarily, which has led to some members feeling less motivated to work to support PNTL in their crime prevention activities. Some KPK members also continue to carry out their duties in violation of laws or operational norms, because they have not received adequate training before beginning their work on the ground. This article discusses the progress of the implementation of community policing in Aileu Municipal Command, including some challenges it faces based on the findings of FM’s recent research in Aileu.

Aileu Municipal Command has established KPK structures in 33 sukus, the last one being on 10 December 2021 in Cotolau Suku, Laulara Administrative Post. KPK structure is headed by the Suku Chief and Suku Police Officials (OPS) composed of community members and youth. The Municipal Security Council (KSM) is headed by the Municipal PNTL Commander and Municipal Administrator, and composed of members from administrative posts, veterans’ councils and religious leaders. The role of KPK and KSM is to support PNTL in their policing work. KSM coordinates cooperation with other security authorities such as F-FDTL, fire brigade, Civil Security and the Information Service.

According to the observations of KPK and KSM members in Aileu, the community policing program has shown good progress in preventing and reducing crime. According to the data on registered crimes in Aileu Municipal Command, in 2018 there were 198 crimes registered. In 2018 the KPK structure was established, then in 2019 the number of crimes registered fell to 162, then to 128 in 2020, and to 108 in 2021. One factor contributing to this fall in crime is that KPK has entered many sukus to share information with communities about crime and conflict prevention.

In addition to the falling crime rate, cases of suicide registered in Aileu Municipality have fallen recently – there were 12 cases in 2018, this fell to 11 in 2019, increased to 14 in 2020, and fell to only 2 in 2021. As the main underlying cause of suicide has not yet been identified, PNTL Municipal Command recommended to Aileu Municipal Administrator to investigate the reasons behind these suicides. Cases of suicide have not been poor or unemployed people, but have involved the children of public servants, PNTL and F-FDTL members, mostly involving young people. One example mentioned by PNTL was a case of a young woman whose parents sent her to sweep every day. She threatened to commit suicide if they continued to force her to sweep, which they did, and she later committed suicide by hanging.

Although community policing in Aileu has achieved progress in establishing structures and reducing crime, there are a number of challenges which PNTL Municipal Command faces, particularly OPS and KPK who work at the suku level.

First, Aileu OPS members have facilities such as transport, laptops and sim cards which enable them to carry out their operational work in the suku. However, they require further training to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities according to the law and the duties required of them.

Second, all KPK officials work voluntarily, and do not receive adequate training or identification cards. They receive only three days of training in the beginning to establish the structure, and there is not follow up training to help them to understand their role and responsibilities in the suku.

With voluntary work, especially for those who are not part of the community leadership structure, when the Municipality organizes an event or activity, KPK volunteers frequently do not attend due to a lack of transport and incentive. They also do not receive identity cards which can identify them as KPK members, which can become a problem when they are present during in a conflict. There are several instances where KPK members were threatened or beaten due to not having any identity card.

Third, the lack of accommodation in the Municipal Command is a concern, as in Aileu there are 127 members, with 36 of them coming from other municipalities. These members thus do not stay with their families, and instead work and sleep in the police station. Therefore, accommodation is needed for members who are deployed from other municipalities.

There is also a lack of equipment for police operations, such as tear gas, night sticks and handcuffs. This is a long-term problem which affects the whole of PNTL, and still has not been resolved. Due to the lack of equipment, PNTL officers simply use their guns, which creates many problems as officers cannot follow the correct procedure for use of force. According to these rules, PNTL must first use tear gas, and if the problem escalates, night sticks can be used, then handcuffs. As this equipment is lacking or non-existent, the only option is to use guns, which then often leads to major problems and heavy criticism from the public, damaging the relationship between PNTL and communities.

Detention facilities and budget for detainees are also inadequate. In Aileu Municipal Command there is no adequate water or sanitation for suspects to use, which is a basic human rights which applies to all including suspects. Money for food for detainees is also lacking, and commanders often pay from their own pocket to provide some food for them. However, when the police arrests many people at once in cases of group assaults, it is very difficult for PNTL to provide sufficient food due to the lack of money available. Thus, the police communicate with families to bring food, but families sometimes do not come at all during the 72 hours in police detention.

Many communication radios and flashlights in Municipal Command do not function, which impacts OPS’s communications when there is an urgent case in the community which requires a rapid response. There are also no flashlights available to facilitate OPS’s work responding to conflicts which occur during the night. Looking forward to the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and experiences during previous elections, provocations by militants often occur during the day and night. Therefore, PNTL members need flashlights for night patrols to respond to conflicts and crimes.

Based on these findings, Fundasaun Mahein offers the following recommendations:

First, PNTL must provide regular retraining to KPK and OPS members, to increase their knowledge about their role and how to conduct their duties according to the Law and operational norms. Second, PNTL can provide incentives and support to KPK members to facilitate their communications and transport, thereby enabling them to work more effectively to support PNTL’s work in preventing crime and conflict. Third, uniforms should be provided to KPK, along with personal identity cards, so that people can identify them as they perform their work assisting local authorities in the suku.

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