ABU DHABI // Community police are to make child protection their priority as they expand operations to cover the entire emirate. Believing that engaging with youngsters is vital in building a safe society, officers will visit schools to form a closer rapport with pupils and reassure them police are there to protect, not to punish them.
The department, which is now recruiting more officers, has lined up a comprehensive plan to engage children aged three to 12. Its head said more details of the new project would be revealed "very soon". It follows the launch last month of the "friends of police" programme, which set up a network of "friends" in schools who co-ordinate closely with the community police. Maj Mubarak bin Mehairoom, manager of the Abu Dhabi department, said engaging with young children was crucial in building trust, which in turn would help the development of a safer society.
"We realise that today's children will be tomorrow's leaders in their societies and therefore we always have new ideas and plans to engage this sector. The new project that will target children from three to 12 years old is a vigorous project. The community police don't think in terms of mere days and weeks, we have long-term plans to prepare children to be active in fighting crimes as they grow up," he said.
Maj Mehairoom said problems might occur when there are "difficult" children who fear the police and do not want to co-operate with them. "Most people see police as a purely enforcement agency. That might be the fact with other police departments who deal only with cases that are of criminal nature. The community police was established, in 2005, to fight this way of thinking," he said. "Through regular visits to residential neighbourhoods and schools, we hope to win the trust of children. These visits give the children an idea that the police are not here to punish, they are here to protect them, to see what their demands are and help them. We also communicate with students through the social workers at schools and find out what the problem is.
"When a child starts to understand that continuing with a certain negative behaviour would lead to consequences, perhaps legal consequences, they would appreciate that the community police is an advisory authority. Through the Friends of Police project, we'll try to choose some of such difficult or careless children as our representatives at schools. This would encourage them to change and would instead influence other careless children to follow their lead," he said.
Maj Mehairoom said: "We're a pre-emptive agency in the sense that we try to prevent a problem before it takes place or exacerbates. For example, a resident in a particular neighbourhood might worry that there are many single guys strolling around, careless drivers in the streets, too many strangers in parties next door. "Such a person would tell the community police and the police would pass their worries to concerned authorities; if it is a traffic offence we report it to traffic police and so on. After solving the problem, we need to make sure that people are satisfied. That is why we go back to that resident, for example, and take feedback from them. Feedback is essential."
On reducing crimes in residential neighbourhoods, Maj Mehairoom said that by dealing with some issues before they escalated, the police would help prevent crimes from taking place. He said the force noticed that crime increased in areas where children and young people had too much free time without having ways to fill it. In 2008, the community police handled 20,596 cases from people in Abu Dhabi, involving public services, traffic, social disputes, minor crimes and disorders.