In many countries the relationship between youth and the police has been described as negative by community and police leaders. Among the common problems is a lack of trust, little or no contact, except through police responding to crime-related incidents, and a degree of hostility. This hostile relationship discourages open communication between police and youths, which, in turn, further exacerbates the levels of distrust and fear felt by both.
The GPF has in various ways for over fifteen years been endeavouring to bring the police back into the community and to improve relationships, and is to be applauded for its efforts. This community-oriented policing is a philosophy of policing in which the police engage the community to solve problems that affect the environment where crime, disorder, violence and drug abuse thrive. Community-oriented policing which calls for a partnership to be developed between the police and the community is a recognition of the danger of ignoring the feelings and perceptions of public safety and of the police held by various segments of the community. Improvements in the relationship between the police and youth can only be accomplished through a partnership based on mutually agreed community needs where there are distinct responsibilities to fulfil. The Cops and Faith initiative which faced serious opposition when it was first mooted as a diversion intervention, is now widely embraced by the police hierarchy.
The following recommendations could assist in improving the relationship between the police and youth through a partnership based on mutually agreeable community needs. These include:
- Liaising with influential community leaders to identify youths with leadership potential and using them to motivate, mobilise and recruit their peers to participate in activities to improve the relationship between youth and the police.
- Organising a task force on improving police-youth relations to include police; youth leaders; representatives from the youth division of the Ministry of Education; University of Guyana faculty members involved in youth related curriculum development; representatives of youth arms of political parties and non-governmental organisations, etc.
- Organising symposia on police-youth relations where influential persons are asked to present papers on prospective programmes that support improvements in the relationship. The results of the symposia can help guide a work plan for the station district or division and can help to spread the word on how to improve or define the relationship between the police and youth.
- Community and youth leaders need to publicly recognise that the administration and community efforts are worthwhile and will contribute to a more peaceful community.
It is to be hoped that structured youth programmes subject to monitoring and evaluation, will help to develop the mental, physical and spiritual aspect of members so that they may grow to full maturity and be productive members in the Guyana society. It is of critical importance that a comprehensive needs assessment be conducted which considers the number of youths resident within a jurisdiction; the average number of juvenile arrests; the most common age of those arrested; the prevalent types of offences; geographical trends; incident rates at a particular school(s); social, racial, gender, or economic similarities; and frequency of contact with at-risk youth outside of arrest situations. By imlementing programmes which examine the foregoing there is likely to be more community interventions which provide mentoring and conflict resolution for those vulnerable and at-risk youths; bullying prevention and violence reduction; and just as importantly, after school recreation.
More open communication among the police, youth and the wider community decreases the opportunities for violence. Therefore it is incumbent on everyone to foster a positive relationship between the police and youth to avoid violence, arrests, court hearings and other negative aspects of the judicial system. A functional relationship between the police and youth is directly related to reduced levels of violence, less instances of physical injury, and a diminution of other negative spinoffs ultimately contributing to the promotion and maintenance of public order.
Patrick E Mentore