Reinforcing community and local security structures in Suzak, Kyrgyzstan
26 February 2016
In 2015 a Saferworld project supported the Local Crime Prevention Centre (LCPC) in Suzak to reestablish itself. By relocating their building and making the membership of the group more diverse the LCPC has seen improved relationships between local communities and authorities, and a reduction in crime in the neighbourhood.
Suzak Ayil Okmotu (a/o) is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the Suzak region of Kyrgyzstan. Established in the Soviet era the majority of the regional administration buildings and services, such as hospitals, banks, colleges and markets are located in Suzak a/o. On a daily basis Suzak a/o receives thousands of people who come from different villages in the Suzak region to access the state services. The amount of people coming to the Suzak a/o area, combined with high rates of unemployment, mean that neighbourhood police consider the nine villages in Suzak as an insecure area and a criminal hotspot, with local people facing a range of safety and security challenges in their daily lives. While tensions between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have reduced in recent years, this still remains a security factor, particularly in cross-border areas.
In 2008 the Kyrgyzstan Government established Local Crime Prevention Centres (LCPCs) across the country to try to prevent and address conflict at the local level by increasing cooperation and joint activity between communities and the local police. However, in many cases the LCPCs failed to function as groups. Public awareness about the groups was low and the majority of members of LCPCs were local government officials which made the groups appear a formal and therefore unapproachable body to the local community. Additionally a lack of clarity about the LCPCs role led to inefficiency in the groups work and poor levels of interaction between LCPC and community members. Research by Civil Union For Reforms and Results in 2014 stated that LCPCs are ‘branches of local self-government,’ and cannot be considered ‘a functioning platform for partnership and dialogue between the police and civil society’. The paper continues that in most regions ‘the public is not aware about the work of LCPCs’. This was the case in Suzak a/o: the LCPC was formally established there in 2012 but did not function within the community because the LCPC members had a weak understanding of their own roles and responsibilities and did not receive any support or guidance from the local government.
In 2014 Saferworld and local partner Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI) began a community security project aimed at enhancing the social partnership between law-enforcement bodies and local communities in order to build trust. A key part of the project focused on reinvigorating LCPCs to be able to address local safety and security concerns. Members of Suzak LCPC, including Law Enforcement Agency members were trained using Saferworld’s community security methodology to identify, analyse and develop responses to local security issues together with the local government and police.
An important change of location
Together the LCPC and local police identified that a major issue in the LCPCs functionality was the location of the LCPCs building. Being situated on the outskirts of the town meant that local people were struggling to reach the centre and the group wasn’t visible to the population. In 2015 the Suzak LCPC received a small grant as part of Saferworld’s project for the construction of a new LCPC building located in the centre of Suzak Ayil Okmotu close to Suzak Ayil Okmotu’s administration building, registration office and passport office. To show their support for the initiative local police and local government provided the labour force for construction activities.
The change of location had an immediate impact on safety within the community, according to Law Enforcement Authority representatives. The number of crimes in the central park, adjacent to the new LCPC building immediately decreased after the new building was constructed. Local neighbourhood police officers acknowledged the improvements to safety and security in the neighbourhood of the new Suzak Ayil Okmotu centre. “The new location of the LCPC makes it easier for people to find us, they can come to us with their problems” stated a neighbourhood police officer and LCPC member.
Following construction of its new building in December 2015 the LCPC also reinvigorated its membership. It increased the number of staff members from 11 to 17 to include a more diverse range of members such as those from the Women’s Council, Youth Council, Aksakals council*, Aksakals court, and Law Enforcement Authorities members (neighbourhood police officers).
Having a group where members of these different community bodies work together has brought about a shift in community safety. Previously Enforcement Authorities did not interact with others local groups, except for the Aksakals court, the body which considers disputed cases and therefore already has close ties to them. Law Enforcement Agencies have also recognised the importance and efficiency of the LCPC jointly working with The Youth Council and Women’s Council, with the Head of the Women’s Council saying, “the support of Suzak LCPC has become a key factor contributing to ensuring legal order and security in the community.”
A new building contributing to new initiatives
The renovation of the centre has provided a space for the LCPC to highlight both their group and the issues they are working on to communities. In January 2016 as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the LCPC the Suzak group organised a community knowledge contest in Dostuk village (located in the cross-border area between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) among women within the local area about the doctrine of Islam and biography of the Prophet. They decided to begin their community activities with this neutral, culturally non-sensitive topic through a quiz to build relationships and trust. This prepared the local community for future discussions on more serious and sensitive issues such as religious radicalism and religious extremism. The competition, held in one of Suzak Ayil Okmotu’s central mosques, had 11 teams of six women of both Uzbek and Kyrgyz ethnicity participating. According to the Head of the Women’s Council, this inter-ethnic composition was designed deliberately in order to involve and interact people from across the two ethnic lines. “Altogether there were 66 women involved, each team consisted of six women (three Kyrgyz and three Uzbeks). This was very important for the teams to be mixed.” More than 150 people from the community attended the contest, including youth, men, teachers, imams and kindergarten supervisors. Local imams also expressed a great interest in supporting the event and provided financial awards for the best three presentations identified by the contest results.
Following the success of the event in January, the LCPC are currently working to organise a second information activity in their communities, which will specifically address issues of religious radicalism and religious extremism. LCPC members have highlighted that they want to prepare the community for this sensitive topic and feel that with their increased visibility they are now in a position to start tackling more sensitive issues. With a new location, and an increased membership the LCPC are currently working to develop their first Strategic Plan for 2016-18, which aims to continue to enhance the membership and institutional capacity of the LCPC to support their community.
Arzuu Sheranova is Project Coordinator for Saferworld in Central Asia.
*The Aksakals (Elders’) Court is a mediation body that handles disputes between community residents that relate to family, property, land and other everyday issues. The court aims to ensure that these disputes do not escalate into court cases.
Find out more about Saferworlds work in Central Asia.