UNDP Project brings police and citizens to the table to heal relations
Just before Christmas 2017, in the small square near the entrance of Tivoli Gardens in downtown Kingston, residents and police squared off … on domino games and scrimmage football.
They laughed together, exchanged jokes, and talked.
It was exactly what was hoped for.
Eight years earlier, portions of the community and the security forces squared off on more serious matters. The infamous 2010 incursion pitted some residents against the security forces over the extradition of a renowned community leader. Serious challenges of distrust and division were left in its wake.
Arising from recommendations of a Commission of Enquiry into the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion, the UNDP Country Office committed to supporting the development and implementation of a Rejuvenating Communities Project for western Kingston using a social cohesion approach.
In 2017 the new project kicked off, and the earnest work of building trust through civic dialogue while strengthening community governance, government institutional service delivery and the earning potential of residents had truly begun.
December’s coming together of residents and the police, dubbed “Come Unity” Fair was made possible under this new multiyear project now known as the Rejuvenating Communities project. Funded by UNDP the project is implemented by the Social Development Commission and coordinated by the Community Renewal Programme (CRP) which is coordinated by the Planning institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), and linked to the goals of Vision 2030.
The “Come Unity” fair organized by the local Community Development Committee and the Government’s Social Development Commission was another carefully laid plank in a strategy designed to pilot the community empowerment model in West Kingston as a means of nurturing trust and building cohesive communities.
The Community Development Committee and police had high praises for progress made so far under the Rejuvenating Communities project.
“Being a part of the Rejuvenating Communities project has been a great experience for us, especially the interaction with the police”, declared Wade Brown, President of the Tivoli Gardens Community Development Committee. “For us it was the first time we interacted with the police on such a civil basis as citizens just discussing issues, discussing their role … playing games, competing with them and just having fun. It was a great experience and we loved it. We have to say thanks to the United Nations Development Programme.”
The civic dialogue component of the project was a high point for Inspector Natalie Palmer of the Community Safety and Security Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (Jamaica’s police force). “Through the forum residents shared their views as to what they expect from the police and the hope they have for their community.”
In her view this has so far been among the greatest impacts of the project. “This allowed us to chat face to face on issues that affected both parties and to clear the negative perceptions. From this we were able to pledge to improve how we interact with each other,” she said.
Inspector Palmer says this has resulted in restoration of public confidence, and trust for the police from the standpoint of the community.
She pointed to the Come Unity Fair as an excellent example: “At first residents mainly stood on the side lines and watched, however, as the day progressed they began to view the display booths and played scrimmage (local version of football) with police officers. At one point there was a DJ contest with the police being cheered on by residents.”
Civic dialogue is one of several activities programmed under the Rejuvenating Communities project. At the end of 2017, 44 residents of Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens and Fletchers Land had been trained in food Safety techniques, video production, and beaded jewellery. This is expected to empower young people in western Kingston to achieve financial security. In this vein, an important next step is supporting youth engagement in social entrepreneurship ventures.
The project was also successful in reactivating a joint community /police organization through establishment of a Steering Committee in the communities of Fletchers Land and Tivoli Gardens. The committee was able to develop a joint action plan for cementing relations between the residents and the Police.
UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Dr Elsie Laurence Chounoune says indications are that the project is on track to reduce violence, build social cohesion, resilience, partnership and trust between residents of West Kingston and the state.
She also lauded the increasing conversations, positive interactions and improving relationship between the police and residents as evidenced by the civic dialogue and the Come Unity Fair.
Inspector Palmer summed up the project potential this way: “The greatest potential for this programme is community safety and security where partnership is at the local level. It is through this that we want to embrace our work 'policing with the consent of the people' and show that together we can create sustained trust and confidence.”
What is the Social Cohesion approach?
A socially cohesive society is one where all groups have a sense of belonging, participation, inclusion, recognition and legitimacy, and as a result are less prone to slip into tension and conflict when differences arise (UNDESA, 2007).
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