Since 2007, the Lisbon Municipal Police (LMP) has been developing a community policing strategy, seeking the maintenance of public tranquillity, the improvement of the quality of life, and good intercultural relations in the city. To this end, the participation of the LMP in community groups has been crucial, since it allows the reflection and definition of concerted intervention strategies with the population and local partners, engaging the community itself in the process of identifying their main security concerns and resolutions.
This new model of policing has sought to recognise that when intercultural conflicts between different cultures arise, it is up to the responsibility of the city police in particular to maintain security and public tranquillity, with the police frequently playing a mediation role.
Following this strategy, the LMP has conducted a pilot-project on a community policing, in close cooperation with community partners of a residential area in the north of Lisbon (Alta de Lisboa). “Safer Alta de Lisboa” is a community policing project with an intercultural approach that promotes the active role of citizens as co-producers of safety on the space they inhabit. The project started in 2009, through the participation of the LMP in the community group GCAL (Community Group of Alta de Lisboa), in which participates several community representatives (e.g. schools, resident associations, health centre, child and youth care centres, day care centres for the elderly). The community Policing in Alta de Lisboa, aiming to contribute to the well-being of the citizens in this territory, namely through the reduction of anti-social behaviours and the increase of the sense of safety in the community, promotes the involvement of the citizens in the process of identifying and implementing, with the LMP, crime preventive activities.
There has been a big investment of time and money in training police staff in intercultural competences. The training sought to sensitize the police officers to the cultural diversity of the territory, which represents a challenge to the construction of a more inclusive community. The training program addressed the legal instruments related to immigrant policies, human rights, statistics on foreign population, communication and cooperation skills. This was the first intercultural approach on the training strategy of the LMP, seeking as well the development of competences to the interaction of the police with different cultural backgrounds of the community, given emphasis on the peace-keeping function of the police, so that conflicts may be resolved without the use of violence.
Since November 2011, when the community policing team started the daily patrol in the territory of Alta de Lisboa, the police and the local partners have been planning and promoting together crime prevention activities aimed at more vulnerable groups (e.g. workshops to elderly residents on rules about safe behaviour; study visits to the facilities of the LMP, to diminish the barriers between youngsters and the police officers or the visit of police officers to schools to debate the importance of the preservation of public spaces or bullying prevention).
So far, the results of this model of policing suggest that, for the police to be able to work effectively with citizens and to establish a trusting relationship in diverse cultural contexts, it’s important that the LMP training strategy focus on intercultural learning skills of the police officers, as well as the development of mediation skills in order to address the different conflicts in the community. Indeed, the police presence in everyday conflicts, places the community policing teams in a central role to the peaceful settlement of the conflicts, especially in solving neighborhood problems, which if not addressed swiftly, can escalate into severe security problems in the community.
The findings of the community policing pilot-experience in Alta de Lisboa, as well as in other Lisbon territories, allowed a better understanding of the community challenges, helping to guide the LMP training strategy for the near future. The development of mediation skills in the police officers is understood to be of particular importance to the community policing strategy, since it’s a model of policing founded on the principles of prevention and problem solving. Since an attitude of mediation requires the police officers to be impartial without losing their sensitivity towards socio-economic situations of greater vulnerability, the attitudes of active listening and concern in hearing all sides of the community, it’s crucial to the community policing. In culturally diverse communities, the capacity for police officers to involve all social groups in the discussion of security problems is also critical to prevent the feeling of exclusion and to give better and more effective community responses.