State Council passed a law on Saturday supporting a proposal by the Ministry of Interior to create a new division within Egypt’s police force, referred to as “community police.”
The draft law would allow for civilians to join the force following an 18-month training period. The new community police would have powers of arrest, but the full purview of the proposed division has not yet been finalized.
Nabil al-Shahed, security expert and the one who proposed the idea of having community police in Egypt, told Mada Masr that the idea aims at tightening the relationship between communities and the police. Shahed said that the new system would essentially formalize the network of cooperation already in place between the people and the police in criminal cases.
Shahed added that the community police would also form groups of “elites” in every neighborhood and hold periodic meetings in which they receive reports on “suspicious” activity in the area and the “strangers” showing up there, in order to create a data base for the police.
This raises concerns that the new system would create a legal framework for the informal networks in place between the police and civilian informants, which could formalize human rights abuses resulting largely from poor education and a lack of formal training.
Human Rights lawyer Nasser Amin is concerned that the new faction would lead to an increase in human rights violations by the police. “The police force has to be trained and rehabilitated in respect for human rights before society is involved in police work, otherwise the problem will multiply,” he said.
Amin reiterated that there is already a crisis in the training and understanding of the police force regarding human rights and he is concerned that adding civilians with minimal training and qualifications would lead to more violations.
According to the draft law, civilians that join the new sector must be between 18 and 22 years old, have completed middle school, have no other nationalities, no criminal record, haven’t been fired from a government job, and must pass the physical tests for the police force.
A six-rank system has been developed for the proposed division.
Former police Lieutenant Mohamed Mahfouz, who is involved in initiatives to reform the police, argues that a new division of non-commissioned officers could exacerbate existing internal problems within Egypt’s police force. While, the idea of creating a connection between the police and the people is essential, he argues, there are better ways to achieve it, like involving civil society, which is more equipped to play that role.
Mahfouz maintains a multiplicity of factions within the police created several of its internal problems, like classism and the rebellion of the lower divisions, namely the non-commissioned officers (NCOs). He says that the long-term restructuring of the institution should include increasing the percentage of officers and not the other way around. The proposed new system would increase the number of NCOs, as it only requires middle school education to join.
He adds that the shortage of human resources within the police as the work pressure increases will not be solved with this initiative. “The solution is to improve the technology used and focus on training, rather than add a new division that would increase classism within the force. If the ministry adds personnel, it should start at the top not the bottom, with a focus on the quality rather than quantity,” he said.
Abdel Latif al-Badiny, former deputy minister of interior and one of the experts who participated in the formation of the community police sector in the United Arab Emirates, said the idea is not suitable for Egypt, and it would result in a dynamic similar to the informal reconciliation sessions currently held in parts of Egypt.