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Community-based policing

Last edited: December 29, 2011

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  • Community-based policing or community-oriented policing is both a philosophy and an organizational strategy that allows the police and the community to work together to solve problems of crime, disorder and safety issues and to improve the quality of life for everyone in that community (OSCE, 2008). Experience suggests that when communities play a key role in defining their own security and safety needs and are involved in planning, implementing and monitoring locally-defined solutions to their problems, community safety and security improves considerably.

  • The quality of the relationship between community groups, civilians and local security personnel – usually the police – is often the determining factor in whether a survivor reports violence and receives adequate treatment, whether the perpetrator is apprehended, investigated and prosecuted and whether effective action is taken locally to prevent future incidents of violence. The deployment of a community police force or use of community policing methods can increase trust and the effectiveness of police in preventing and responding to violence against women (Police Executive Research Forum).

  • Community policing is based on the premise that no one organization can solve local security problems, which require partnership, collaboration and joint problem-solving between the police, the communities they serve, and others (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Servicesa). Potential partners for community-based policing might include:

    • Other government agencies (e.g. local authorities, prosecutors, probation and parole officers, public works departments, neighbouring law enforcement agencies, health and social services, child support services, and schools).  

    • Community members/groups (e.g. individuals who live, work, or otherwise have an interest in addressing violence against women in the community—volunteers, activists, formal and informal community leaders – who are a valuable resource for identifying community concerns).

    • Traditional and community leaders, who are often called to intervene in cases of domestic violence, sexual abuse and child abuse.

    • Non-governmental/ community-based service providers, who are core partners in the referral system and provide key support to survivors or women at risk of violence (e.g. shelters, women’s organizations, advocacy organizations, survivor support groups, service clubs, community development organizations, faith-based groups or associations).

    • Private businesses, who have a stake in the health of the community and can contribute financial and other resources.

    • Local media, who can assist with publicizing the issue in the community and possible solutions, promote services from government or community agencies or new laws or codes that will be enforced. In addition, the media can have a significant impact on public perceptions of the police, domestic violence and security issues for women in the community.

  • Community-based policing requires police departments to organize their management, structure, personnel, and information systems in a manner that supports partnerships with advocates and other community members and proactive problem-solving focused on survivor safety. Key priorities to ensure community-based policing improves prevention and response to violence against women include (Denham, 2008, OSCE, 2011):

    • Integrate gender and violence against women issues across police operations locally at the earliest stages of police reform and in line with measures taken at the national level, including by:

      • Developing clear policies and strategies, with a budget for implementation.

      • Establishing specific units to deal with violence against women or child protection issues at the community level. For example, in the United Kingdom, every police force has a Community Safety Unit to deal with domestic violence; Child Abuse Investigation Units for cases of physical or sexual violence against minors; and Sapphire Units for sexual offences. Officers are specifically selected and trained for this work, with units based in designated buildings (separate from police facilities) to help survivors feel safe.

      • Placing plain-clothed officers within communities, who may be more approachable and reduce attention to women and girls who may seek support or assistance from police.

      • Identifying ‘champions’ within the local force to advocate for addressing the issue.

      • Increasing the representation of women and minority groups in community police units, as women and girls are often more comfortable reporting violence to female police (Population Council, 2010).

    • Give specific training to police to improve their capacity to implement community policing. In addition to basic training related to gender-based violence and survivor-centred responses, topics should include community policing concepts, address attitudes and myths related to survivors (key to improving effective victim identification and engagement), and specifically develop personnel skills in communication, collaborative problem-solving and cooperation. These skills are essential for working in partnership with community members, government and local organizations with experience addressing the issue, and can strengthen police interventions (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Servicesb).

    • Promote linkages between community police, women’s organizations and community groups advocating or providing services to survivors (e.g. joint training/ patrolling, coordinated referral services). For example, engaging groups in conducting community safety audits can increase police awareness of women’s security concerns and improving women’s sense of security.
    • Hold regular meetings between the police and community groups in convenient and safe locations to encourage participation of all community members, especially women. Such consultations should be organized with women’s advocates and should consider the location (e.g. community centres rather than police stations); time (hours where women can freely move and have fewer competing responsibilities); and format of meetings (small groups versus large public forums, presence of female personnel) to ensure women’s security and maximize their participation.

    • Establish internal systems within the police that encourage and reward innovative practice with respect to violence prevention and response (e.g. performance-related pay, service awards, police officer of the month).

    • Establish local civilian oversight and coordination mechanisms to enable community groups to monitor police practices and responses to gender-based violence (e.g. community-police forums or committees and review boards).

Illustrative examples of community policing efforts:

Consultation with women’s groups in developing community policing in Burundi

In Bujumbura (Burundi), a community-based policing force has been operationalized in response to the identified security gap at individual and community levels, especially in rural areas, with support from several donors, including the UN Peacebuilding Fund, Belgium and France. To better understand the security needs of women and determine if these were being adequately addressed through wider security sector reforms, the NGO International Alert conducted a survey with women in 2008. The women interviewed revealed that they placed more weight on their personal and household security over public security, and unless those issues were incorporated into police reforms, it would be unlikely that women would feel improvements in their safety.

As part of the reform process, community discussions on police reform and community policing consistently noted gender-based violence as a concern. Police officers explained their need to have information required to intervene in cases of domestic violence and encouraged women in Bujumbura to come forward about sexual violence generally. The programme design engaged representatives from 30 women’s organizations in meetings with personnel administering the Peacebuilding Fund project on developing a community-based policing approach in Burundi, which contributed to several specific recommendations for the initiative:

  • Integrate SCR 1325, specifically the need to protect women and girls, in the French and Kirundi versions of the police manuals;

  • Ensure that police training curriculum incorporates modules on violence against women;

  • Ensure that there are periodic meetings between the police and local communities where women are able to participate effectively and voice their security concerns;

  • Provide sex-disaggregated data on the number of participants in trainings and sensitization meetings that are planned under all Peacebuilding Fund projects;

  • Ensure women’s organizations are involved in the implementation of this project, particularly with regards to sensitizing the population on the functions of the new police force and the advantages of their new functions and uniforms; and

  • All the police reform projects funded by donors (e.g. Dutch, French and Belgian) should take the specific needs of women into account.

Sources: Barnes K. (2009), Building an inclusive Security Sector, How the EU can support gender-sensitive security sector reform in conflict-affected contexts, Initiatives for Peacebuilding Gender Cluster; email correspondence with T. Dexter (2010).


Community Policing in Bosnia: A Community Policing Project in Bosnia and Herzegovina worked with kindergartens and schools within the scope of a “domestic violence” prevention campaign. A contest for the selection of a logo and slogan was organized and invitations were sent to all schools in Zenica. Police, together with all kindergarten classes and schools, had representatives for a domestic violence prevention campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to train police officers and teachers and give clear guidelines which would help identify children exposed to domestic violence, and develop mechanisms to help the victims. Working together, the various stakeholders developed an action plan for a preventive campaign and the development of a social care centre. In Zenica, a domestic violence workgroup was formed (consisting of representatives of police, schools, the Municipality, Prosecutor’s office, the Courts, a safe house, a social care centre, a hospital, and others) to sustain and continue to work to prevent domestic violence in the community (DeBlieck, S, 2007).


Case Study: Parivartan-
A Programme for the Safety of Women and Children by the New Delhi Police (India)

The New Delhi Police initiated the Parivartan Programme in 2005, in which women police officers conduct community awareness and sensitization activities against rape and domestic violence in densely-populated, low-income areas of the capital. The main objective and all activities of the programme are targeted towards reducing the growth rate of crimes against women and children by 25 percent annually. The initiative started in the North-West district, where the incidence of violence against women was highest among the 9 districts of New Delhi. For example, in 2005, 29% of the total rape cases were reported from North West district. The initiative has since spread to the North and Outer districts of the city. It was designed by the New Delhi Police, in collaboration with civil society, including academics, human rights activists and non-governmental organizations.

Special features of the programme include: pantomimes for sensitization of communities on issues of drug abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault organized by the non-governmental organization Jagran; door-to-door awareness campaigns, distribution of safety literature and self-defence programmes for women and girls by female officers; formation of women safety committees; awareness workshops and lectures in educational institutes by the non–governmental organization Swanchetan and sensitization of male police personnel.

Parivartan is first systematic and structured community-based policing intervention in the city, following previous initiatives which were unable to achieve results or be sustained. As a result of the dynamic and pro-active partnership between women in communities and female officers, women and children’s safety has increased. The culturally-sensitive pantomimes have contributed to a higher level of ‘recall and retention’ of issues regarding women and children’s safety. Through regular training and workshops on safety and security issues, the capacity development of male and female police personnel and community members has increased.

Read the full Case Study.

See also videos developed for the programme:

Sources: Interviews with North West District Deputy Commissioner Jaiswal; Dr. Sagar Preet Hooda, former Deputy Commissioner of the New Delhi Police; and Ms. Manju, responsible for Parivartan cell in the North West District; and New Delhi Police. Parivartan website.