NIŠ—Police officers who are connected with the community and who citizens know personally and have trust in are needed to increase the sense of safety for residents of Niš.
Greater transparency on employment and advancement in the police and the strengthening of professional police communication with the media and citizens is necessary to increase trust in this institution, was the main conclusion of the debate organized by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) on 20 of November 2018 in Niš.
The 2016 Law on Police introduced compulsory competition for employment and promotion in the police, but this good solution has been altered by this year’s changes.
BCSP Researcher Saša Đorđević said that now vacancies in the Ministry of Interior can be filled without a competition and that the Minister of Interior has significant powers in human resources management.
Research has shown that citizens living in the south of Serbia do not believe that the employment in the police results from a fair process.
“Almost half of those polled believe that politics come into play, a third that friendly and family relations are a determining factor, while only 15% have trust in a public competition,” Đorđević said.
Police Should Be in Service of Citizens
Milan Stefanović from the Centre for Civil Society Development Protecta said that the police are more professional today than in the nineties, but also that it is far from being fully citizen-oriented.
As one of the main problems, Stefanović emphasizes centralization within the Ministry of Interior and the fact that all decisions come directly from Belgrade.
“There is no concept in which citizens are asked what the greatest security issues in the community are, who they trust for problem solving, or what they see as the most effective way of communicating with the police officers. Until I see something like that, I do not see a possibility for the police being in service of citizens either. The police should do their job professionally, but also be close to the citizens. We need a ‘neighbourhood police officer’ who everyone recognizes and trusts to solve the problem”, Stefanovic said.
The former Chief of the Niš Police, Ninoslav Mitić, pointed out that Niš had “area police officers” until the 1990s, when it was a much smaller city than today and when the number of police officers was greater than today.
Citizens’ demands for local police officers who would be present everywhere in the city he sees as impossible because of the lack of law enforcement officers.
However, Mitić believes that Niš is a safe city. He said that the police mitigate the security risks in Niš by motor-patrols, by reacting to the calls of citizens and a constant presence at gatherings where there is a security risk.
The police in Niš are doing their job well, but that there are not enough police officers on the streets, said Žarko Ranković, Medijana Municipal Assembly President and former Niš Security Council member.
“A community police officer or area police officer is a good idea because a person in such a position would be able to know the security situation best, and challenges and problems in certain parts of the city. City structures should put pressure on the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of police officers in Niš”, states Ranković.
Continuity, trust and two-way communication
That continuity is a significant factor for security articulated Igor Vojinović, Alderman and Niš Security Council member.
Frequent employee changes should not occur in any of the institutions whose work is important for security. He added that professionals who possess knowledge and communication skills and who are adequately equipped need to remain in those institutions over time, instead of frequent staff changes.
The speakers agreed that the perception of police work is significantly influenced by the media and that sensationalist reporting should be avoided.
Danijela Vučić, Director of the Media & Reform Centre, pointed out that two-way communication needs to be established for the greater trust of citizens in the police.
Aleksandar Stankov, Deputy Editor of Južne vesti, pointed out the importance of transparency and better communication with citizens.
“More transparent work of the police goes hand in hand with professionalism. Previously, in Niš, regular press conferences were held where journalists could get answers to questions about the work of the police. In time, they have been reduced to sending a press release to the media, and today even that has changed. If we ever get a statement, we will get it from Belgrade, and all of our questions directed to the Police Directorate in Niš are forwarded to Belgrade. We often do not get any response”, Stankov stressed.
Are the citizens of Niš safe?
Stankov questioned the transparency of police work, the education of police spokespersons, and the assessments of the security of Niš, reminding of the wave of setting cars of politicians and police officers on fire in Niš, where the latest round of such attacks was towards the Deputy Chief of the Serbian Intelligence Agency.
“I cannot say that I live in a safe city when I have that in mind. Especially since none of these cases was really solved. I have no information about what happened with either case as a journalist and as a citizen”, Stankov said.
Representatives of institutions underlined that the citizens of Niš are safe, given the reduced crime rate and very few murders in the previous period.
The audience that participated in the discussion after the debate did not agree with the assessment that Niš is a safe city, citing numerous unresolved cases of burning cars as examples.
The debate is part of the joint efforts of the Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), National Coalition for Decentralization (NKD), Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) and Partners for Democratic Change, in cooperation with the Centre for Civil Society Development PROTECTA, to foster the participation of citizens in decision-making at the local level, through project “Civic Action for Accountability” supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The views expressed in the debate are exclusively the views of panelists and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID.