The term civil policing may be used to describe modes of voluntary self-policing undertaken by individuals and groups of individuals in civil society. In St. Kitts & Nevis we conduct some modes of voluntary policing based on responsible citizenship such as neighbourhood watch groups in Conaree, Mattingly Height, Frigate Bay and a number of others.
Looking at the term vigilance and vigilantism via civil policing, one can agree that vigilance can be viewed as the good citizen acting as the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ of the general public, whereas vigilantism is the irresponsible citizen taking the law into his or her own hands.
However, one question arises from such modes of policing recently in Guyana, where the populace was of the perception that law enforcement appeared to be failing in their attempt to maintain law and order and the protection of citizens, which led to the creation of some of its citizens forming groups and carrying out vigilante justice that resulting in the death of some of the perpetrators of violent crimes.
According to Guyana Times (August 30, 2016), “Leaders from both sides of the political spectrum have been outspoken in their condemnation of such acts and have announced ‘zero tolerance’ of vigilante justice.”
Though civil policing in the Federation has always been with us, there is good evidence that its influence has been growing in recent years. This has been demonstrated through the politics of our society, such as the passing of the recent Island Constable Act and direct citizen participation via Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the Private Sector.
To this end, with the growth of Private Security Companies, the expansion of civil policing adds to the fragmentation of structures and forces us to address the question of the relationship between the elements.
Vigilante activity pose serious questions for the police at all levels. Looking at the recent shooting incidents in the Federation, our Police Force’s policy may condemn all forms of vigilantism, yet there may be temptation by some police officers to turn a ‘blind eye’ or may even give tacit support to activities which impose informal solutions on problems that cannot easily be resolved by formal means.
Generally speaking, evidence has suggested that the interactions between the police and groups of active citizens engaged in civil policing are likely to be complex. Sometimes the police favour ‘adversarial groups’, those most critical of the police as much as the ‘supplemental groups’, those most favourable to the police in order to better manage community relations.
So as we address the issue of crime, let us work together through civil policing vigilance rather than vigilantism.
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