Researchers: Community-based crime prevention necessary but requires regulation

Researchers: Community-based crime prevention necessary but requires regulation

Saturday, June 25, 2016 4:30 pm

Community based vigilance groups

Community based vigilance groups

UI researchers explore effectiveness of community–based crime prevention

By Gbenro Adesina/Ibadan

With the seeming increase in crime rate in some parts of Nigeria, many communities are doing a lot to ensure security of life and property alongside the Police and other constituted authorities. In recent times, weak criminal justice and policing systems often necessitated the introduction of complementary community-based crime prevention strategies. While these strategies are common, their effectiveness and legitimacy continue to be a subject of controversy.

The need to explore these issues and to assess the perceived effectiveness of community–based crime prevention strategies and what makes them effective prompted some scholars of the Department of Communication and Language Arts of the University of Ibadan to embark on a research in one of Nigeria’s largest metropolitan cities, Ibadan, capital of Oyo State.

The research team comprises Dr. Ayobami Ojebode as the Lead researcher. Other members are: Dr. Babatunde Rapheal Ojebuyi, Dr. Ngozi Joy Onyechi, Oyewole Oladapo, Obasanjo Joseph Oyedele, Israel Ayinla Fadipe and M. O. Babajide. They conducted two series of surveys, interviews and discussions with residents, landlords, landladies and leaders of community development associations in 18 communities in Ibadan.

The communities are: Sasa, Orogun, Agbowo, Oladele, Old Bodija, Apete, Mapo, Onireke, Alalubosa, Oja’ba. Akobo Estate, Jericho, Laaniba, Akobo Extension, Beere, Mokola, New Bodija and Ojoo.

According to a policy brief on the research released recently, the team found out that community–based crime prevention practices were widely prevalent in Ibadan and were driven by community development associations. The research revealed that the practices were not devoid of police assistance and combined elements of deferent non-state models such as paid security provisioning, vigilantism and neighbourhood watches. The team added: “Most residents described their communities as safe and crime levels as low. Social capital, community participation and communication infrastructure were high in the studied communities and these may be the factors that make it possible for the communities to organise themselves in the first instance”.

The research further revealed that what makes a community–based crime prevention practice effective is the ability of the community development association to apply what they call the “communitisation” strategy, a strategy that plays out in three forms.

First, the associations driving the community–based crime prevention practice declared nearly everything, including private spaces, as subject to community inspection and oversight. Though community–based crime prevention practices could be intrusive of private spaces and might even be dictatorial, citizens, however, did not mind this intrusion, claiming that intrusion for the sake of security was better than privacy with insecurity.

Secondly, community associations also communitised some of the private concerns and problems of their members, shielding them from the complications that arise in Nigeria each time a citizen has to report a matter to the police. The association thus stood in the place of the concerned or aggrieved individual members.

Third, community associations also communitised the role of the state: they stepped in to fund the police by supplying their vehicles with fuel, constructing police posts, repairing police patrol vans and giving police officers monetary incentives so that the communities can be well patrolled and protected. They also supplied intelligence and facilitated the arrest of suspects. The officers reciprocated by patrolling regularly and responding rapidly to distress calls from the community associations.

A comparison of two community–based crime prevention practices – one effective, the other not – showed that effectiveness depended on the ability of the community associations to deploy the strategy summed up above. An effective community–based crime prevention practice is conceptualised as one that produces an actual reduction in crime rates and results in citizens’ favourable perception of their safety.

Through an exploration of the contexts, the team discovered that a conjuncture of cultural and contextual factors impacted on the ability of the community associations to apply those three strategies. Thus, by examining socio-cultural and other contextual factors, the team was able to conclude that poverty and population density, as well as economic and demographic factors such as unemployment and youth population, were rather implausible explanations for the effectiveness or otherwise of community-based crime prevention practices.

The report indicated that community-based crime prevention strategies have been shown to make people and the entire community safer. This is particularly the case where members of the community take the lead in identifying, resolving local problems, and managing public spaces, and not relying entirely on the state for support in these areas. In some cases, community-based crime prevention has been known to come under the control of local groups who wield parallel power in the area pointing out, “These not only include criminal elements such as gang leaders, but heads of transport unions as well”.

With this in mind, they suggested that the police should focus its efforts on reducing the power and influence of these groups adding that such actions may include surveillance, arrests or more aggressive raids. Also in trying to promote community-based models in other parts of the country, the Ministry of the Interior and its development partners should actively help facilitate the process of defining clear community roles and responsibilities so that groups can maximise their strengths and resources.

The team further recommended that policies seeking to strengthen ccommunity-based crime prevention practices must support communitisation strategies and create a delicate balance between protecting citizens’ rights without weakening the strength of the community associations. According to them, an approach that seeks citizens’ interpretation of their rights and privileges is important in drafting such policies.

Policies also need to recognize that in some contexts even such strategies will have limited efficacy. Also, to boost the effectiveness of police patrols that support community-based crime prevention, the government should prioritise the construction of more roads in the communities. These should be regularly maintained so that they do not deteriorate.

The researchers concluded that given that community-policing models have been shown to work, specific legal frameworks and policies should be developed to facilitate the process of communitisation.

The research is part of the Evidence and Lessons from Latin America, ELLA, south-south knowledge and exchange programme involving several countries.

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