What can we learn from how community policing has evolved in Sierra Leone? This report answers the question by presenting an in-depth analysis of Local Policing Partnership Boards (LPPBs), the main institutional response to community needs by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).
A general understanding of how LPPBs operate is available, but there is a dearth of concrete and systematic analysis of how LPPBs in Sierra Leone’s 33 police divisions operate. The report is based on data collected in 17 of Sierra Leone’s police divisions and makes the following broad observations:
- One of the key strengths of the LPPBs is that they are built around already existing actors of authority at the local level such as traditional leaders, quasi-vigilante groups and secret societies. This is also one of the reasons why it is difficult to ascertain if these actors would have played a central role in local order-making, regardless of whether LPPBs had been established or not. It is clear, however, that LPPBs have supported the (re)formalization of relations between the police (state) and local communities (population).
- There is an important difference between the interplay of local authorities and community in rural and urban areas. Involvement of the community in rural areas tends to mean involvement of paramount and lesser chiefs. There is often a complete overlap between the chiefly hierarchy and LPPB members, and as such the latter act both as representatives of local authorities and as police proxies. In urban or densely populated areas the establishment of LPPBs has expanded the range of actors involved in defining and responding to local security, incorporating teachers, youth and women’s leaders, among others. As such, Sierra Leone’s LPPBs have in fact supported the democratization of security.
- Because LPPBs are still evolving as a concept and as a set of practices, it should be considered carefully how and under what conditions they are formalized in legislation. It is essential that it is not done prematurely so that the LPPBs have the space to develop and respond flexibly to context.
- The voluntary nature of LPPB membership is one of the cornerstones of the LPPBs. This status is central to maintaining the status of these boards as connected to, but not as formal components of the police.
- Whatever activities the police and LPPB leadership pursue in the future to strengthen LPPBs, their ‘in-between’ status should not be altered. LPPBs help an overstretched police force resolve cases at the local level, and as such, they act as a non-threatening, mediation-oriented police force multiplier. LPPBs should continue to be seen as part of the community in the broad sense of the term, while they remain in a position to liaise with the police when necessary. This is fundamental to the original vision of LPPBs and to the concept and practice of community policing in Sierra Leone.