Why trust between security forces and citizens matters in the context of COVID-19

by Solange Bandiaky-Badji   October 5, 2020

As many countries move toward reopening as COVID-19 cases fall, and in some places re-confinement as cases increase, law enforcement agencies will continue to play a key role in supporting the implementation of public health measures to contain the virus. For governments’ COVID-19 measures to be effectively implemented, governments should promote approaches that strengthen trust between security forces and citizens through increased and collaborative problem-solving. These efforts can not only improve countries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic but serve as a foundation on which to build resilience to future crises. Our experience at PartnersGlobal shows us that these relationships can be strengthened even in the midst of a crisis.

Community policing (police de proximité in French), which many African countries have introduced over the last decade as part of security sector reform, is an approach that focuses on building ties between police and community members. Community policing not only strengthens trust and improves communication with citizens but can help security forces work more effectively. It can also build resilience to enhance responses to cross-cutting challenges, such as a pandemic.

In Guinea, participants in our Partners for Security in Guinea project, a U.S. Department of State-funded community policing project implemented over the past five years, are building on the police-community relationships they have established to respond to the current health crisis. Their collective and inclusive initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 includ

  • The creation of COVID-19 response teams made up of district chiefs, police commissioners, health officers, and others who conduct awareness campaigns and implement prevention measures;
  • Multi-stakeholder partnerships among civil society, local leaders, women, and youth, which develop community-based action plans to prevent gender-based violence and the spread of COVID-19;
  • Local crime prevention councils that support community sensitization activities around COVID-19; and
  • Police officers trained to working in health emergencies and on preventing domestic violence.

These collaborative efforts of our partners in Guinea provide a blueprint for other countries to develop more effective approaches to peace and security. By strengthening trust between police and citizens, governments are better able to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and can build resilience to face future challenges such as disasters, pandemics, and climate change.

When we get past this current crisis, the success of COVID-19 responses and recovery plans will be measured not just by health and economic recovery but by how citizens—including women, youth, and the most vulnerable—have been involved and how their human rights have been respected.

For more information on proven strategies for building trust and cooperation between citizens and security forces, look at our brief “COVID-19 and Community Policing: Strengthening citizen trust with security forces in Guinea” and join us Oct. 7 at 10:30 AM EST for our webinar “COVID-19 and The Security Sector: Civil Society Experience in Building Trust Between Security Forces and Citizens in West Africa.”

RSVP here for English: https://forms.gle/EnmWkLMcGBqmw1wg9.

RSVP here for French: https://forms.gle/ayreqWdqqFKGfeCq6
*The webinar will be available in English and French

About the Author: Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Ph.D., is Senior Director of Africa and Women, Peace and Security at PartnersGlobal