Creating a long-term public forum where the police and ordinary citizens can work together to resolve human rights grievances and other issues affecting police/community relations

The CLEEN Foundation, formally the Centre for Law Enforcement Education in Nigeria, hosts public forums where citizens and police can discuss concerns and grievances regarding crime and police conduct.

Communities and police forces can find themselves in an unproductive cycle of distrust. Community members are concerned about police misconduct, brutality, and corruption. The police, in turn, can see the community as hostile and uncooperative in their investigations.

In Nigeria, the centralized structure of the police force has contributed to the problem: one agenda and set of policies is applied to the whole country, creating a gap between the law enforcement priorities of the police and the needs of the local communities.

CLEEN begins bridging this divide by sending letters proposing a public forum in their communities to local governments. The group follows up on this invitation only if local governments respond and the cooperation and commitment of the local police division can be secured. CLEEN then conducts a partnership workshop, where police and community members receive conflict-resolution training, discuss police responses to local complaints, and discuss how CLEEN’s program could be implemented in the area. These workshops allow each community to shape the program to its own needs. Two people from the community are then hired on a part-time basis to coordinate the forums for two years. After the two-year period is over, the community must find a way to sustain the program on its own.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

One friction point in many societies is the relationship between the police force and civilians. Poor communica­tion can lead to abuses or compromise public safety. In Nigeria a group has found an innovative way to bridge that gap.

CLEEN’s tactic provides community members and police officers with a nonthreatening environment in which to share their concerns, overcoming the significant barriers created by bureaucracy. Both sides in a potentially contentious relationship have the opportunity to see the other as more human: someone to collaborate with, rather than to oppose. Over time, this process can interrupt the unproductive cycle of mistrust, laying a new foundation on which police embrace their role of service to citizens and citizens assist the police in their duties. This can reduce both police violence and civilian crime. The project has been implemented in fourteen local government areas drawn from the six geographical regions of Nigeria.

Because mistrust and misunderstanding cause friction among many groups, this tactic could be used to build stronger relationships between other groups in conflict, such as ethnic groups or business owners and farmers. One potential pitfall is the emotion and acrimony that can surround very difficult issues. Facilitators must be prepared to deal with this and to do so over a fairly long period of time. A one-time meeting is likely to be far less effective than CLEEN’s long-term approach.