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“Nigerian Police Redefine Community Relations Amidst Unrest” By Ishola Ayodele

Stealing The Thunder: How Voluntary Self-Disclosure Enhances Credibility By Ishola Ayodele

“Nigerian Police Redefine Community Relations Amidst Unrest” By Ishola Ayodele

Background:

In recent years, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) has faced significant challenges in public perception, particularly among the youth demographic. This has been largely due to instances of alleged brutality, corruption, and a perceived lack of empathy towards citizens’ concerns. However, a recent incident in Lagos State presents an opportunity for the NPF to positively impact public perception through strategic engagement with protesters.

Scenario:

During a protest organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Lagos State, demonstrators gathered to express grievances regarding the rising cost of living. Despite initial concerns about potential clashes, the NPF took a surprising approach by distributing water and snacks to protesters. This gesture of goodwill garnered attention and shifted the narrative surrounding police-citizen interactions.

Public Relations Gains:

Humanizing the Police: By demonstrating empathy and concern for protesters’ well-being, the NPF humanized its image. This action conveyed a message of understanding and solidarity with citizens, challenging negative stereotypes about police officers being indifferent or hostile.

Building Trust: The distribution of water and snacks served as a tangible demonstration of the NPF’s commitment to peaceful engagement. This act helped to build trust and fostered a sense of cooperation between law enforcement and the community, laying the groundwork for future positive interactions.

Positive Media Coverage: The incident received widespread media coverage, with images and videos of police officers distributing refreshments circulating on social media platforms. This positive coverage generated favorable public sentiment towards the NPF, counteracting previous negative narratives.

Strategic Approaches for Future Engagement:

Community Outreach Programs: 

The NPF can implement community outreach programs aimed at fostering positive relationships with citizens, particularly youth groups. This could include organizing events such as town hall meetings, sports tournaments, or educational workshops to facilitate dialogue and collaboration.

A very good example where community outreach programs have been successful is the ‘Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP)’ established in 2011. By assigning officers to specific neighborhoods to engage with residents, the program has led to a significant decrease in crime rates and improved community trust. (https://www.lapdcsp.org/)

This approach has also been supported by several studies, notable among these studies is the study conducted by the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University which reveals that community outreach programs can significantly improve police-community relations and enhance perceptions of police legitimacy. (The Evidence-Based Policing Matrix: Lum, Koper, & Telep, 2011).

Training and Sensitization: 

Conducting training sessions for police officers on conflict resolution, empathy, and community policing strategies can help improve interactions with the public. Sensitization programs could also raise awareness about the importance of respecting citizens’ rights and addressing grievances in a constructive manner.

For example, The Police Training Institute (PTI) in Illinois implemented a training program focused on procedural justice principles. Evaluations of the program showed that officers who received this training demonstrated improved communication skills and were better able to de-escalate conflicts during interactions with citizens.

A report by Dai, M. (2021) which evaluated police training program on procedural justice focusing on its short- and long-term impact on officers’ attitudes and behaviors, as well as citizens’ interactions and perceptions of the police concluded that comprehensive data suggested that the procedural justice training was effective both immediately and in the long run. (Training police for procedural justice: An evaluation of officer attitudes, citizen attitudes, and police-citizen interactions. The Police Journal, 94(4), 481-495)

The Mengyan Dai 2021 report conclusion corroborated a multi-year study by scientists at the National Policing Institute, George Mason University, Arizona State University, and the University of Pennsylvania which showed evidence that training officers to operate in accordance to the principles of procedural justice changed their behaviour towards the citizens, reduced arrests, enhanced the perceptions of police in the community, and also reduced crime. (thecrimereport.org, 2022: Study Finds Procedural Justice Training Improves Police Behavior)

Utilizing Social Media: 

In today’s digital age, law enforcement agencies worldwide are recognizing the power of social media as a tool for shaping public perception and fostering positive community relations. By leveraging platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, police forces can humanize their image and highlight the positive contributions of officers in serving the community. These include:

Sharing Stories of Compassion and Service:

One of the most impactful ways police departments can utilize social media is by sharing stories that showcase officers engaging in acts of kindness, compassion, and community service. Whether it’s helping a stranded motorist, participating in a neighborhood cleanup, or mentoring local youth, these anecdotes humanize officers and demonstrate their commitment to serving and protecting the community.

Engaging with the Community:

Social media also provides an invaluable platform for two-way communication between law enforcement agencies and the community. Police departments can use their social media accounts to engage with residents, address concerns, and provide valuable safety information. By actively responding to comments, messages, and inquiries, departments demonstrate transparency and accessibility, further enhancing public trust and confidence.

Strategic Content Creation:

In addition to sharing individual stories, police departments can create strategic content campaigns that align with their community policing objectives. For example, campaigns highlighting diversity within the police force, showcasing specialized programs or community outreach initiatives, can reinforce positive perceptions and strengthen community ties.

CONCLUSION

The proactive engagement demonstrated by the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) amidst the protests in Lagos State serves as a beacon of hope in the realm of law enforcement-community relations. Through acts of empathy and dialogue, the NPF has embarked on a transformative journey towards reshaping its image and fostering a culture of trust and collaboration with the Nigerian youth.

It is said that, “The best way to truly understand another person’s perspective is to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes.” By embracing a culture of mutual respect, understanding and authentic connection, the Nigeria Police Force will be taken significant strides towards bridging the divide between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Ishola, N. Ayodele is a distinguished and multiple award-winning strategic communication expert who specializes in ‘Message Engineering’. He helps Organizations, Brands and Leaders Communicate in a way that yields the desired outcome. He is the author of the seminal work, ‘PR Case Studies; Mastering the Trade,’ and Dean, the School of Impactful Communication (TSIC). He can be reached via [email protected] or 08077932282.

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