Intervention – “What is Community Policing Theory?”

Biko Agozino (Virginia Tech; agozino@vt.edu), Emmanuel C. Onyeozili (University of Maryland Eastern Shore), Augustine Agu (UNICEF) and Patrick Ibe (Albany State University)

With the mounting insecurity in Nigeria and the brutal militaristic policing of the country, Nigerians have been calling for the introduction of community policing to help to secure rights, lives and property. The authors responded to the public clamour for justice by collaborating on a book project with a view to offer a theoretical framework and a comparative analysis of best and worst practices of community policing that Nigeria and Africa could learn from. This intervention aims at contributing to the theorization of the practical concerns of community policing echoed by the #BlackLivesMatter movement around the world. These extracts focus on the theoretical background that could help to inform debates about police brutality and insecurity worldwide with insights from Africa-centered epistemologies in dialogue with theories from the North. With few exceptions, such discussions focus on the geopolitical North and the few that extend the focus to Africa simply focus on Northern goals, methods, and fears rather than on African interests.

Theory is not magic that only a few people can do but something that every community engages in when they tell stories about their observations of patterns and tendencies that lead to conclusions about the order of things and the expectations of things to come or things to do to change current conditions for the better. Community policing is the practice designed to promote safety and well-being by making peace and by preventing wrong-doing that is found in every community. Being practical, discretionary, and authoritarian, policing tends to be lacking in theory that is systematic and experimental through trial and error but habitually keeps doing the same things and conservatively hopes for the same results. This lack of theory in the practice of policing may be part of the reasons why it is not as effective as people desire in a world that is fast changing that requires thinking outside the box. The lack of theory in this area of life may be as a result of the nature of the problem of crime and social order as things that are not always predictable.

Criminology has many theories of what causes crime and how society responds to criminal behavior but the field of Criminal Justice Science notoriously neglects theory-construction while concentrating on administrative strategies of law enforcement, court trials, and corrections. The few theories of criminal justice administration include the Precolonial Black Africa theory of very peaceful and orderly societies with no need for professional police forces or prisons and with emphasis on peacemaking, according to Cheikh Anta Diop. Marxist theory recognizes law enforcement as the arm of government that protects the interests of rich people based on their fear that poor people will try and overthrow them and steal their wealth. Even though poor people are overwhelmingly law abiding worldwide, they are convicted and imprisoned even when they are innocent, as Reiman and Leighton theorized. On the other hand, the rich and powerful people and companies get away with many crimes, especially during the hundreds of years of the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans, during colonialism, during post-colonial genocide, and during apartheid segregation. The majority of the law-abiding masses struggled to bring those systems of criminal injustice oppression to an end (against slavery, sexism, imperialism, Nazism, Jim Crowism, and against apartheid) in order to improve public safety with the aim to abolish oppressive laws and make it possible for all to contribute to their community according to their abilities and give to all according to their needs. Even without having a police force, a court of law and prisons, indigenous communities without oppression were more humane and safer than oppressive and exploitative police states because wherever there is crime and social injustice, the people will struggle to end it and enthrone social justice for the benefit of all.

The classic work by Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), indicates that African people were more scared of juju (bad spiritual powers) than they were of the colonial police and the military. Thus, if someone dreamt of sleeping with another man’s wife, he would go and apologize to the husband and pay a fine after waking up to avoid being messed up by the ancestral spirits. Fanon also reported that colonial European police officers institutionalized violence as law and order by torturing Africans but also went mad and went home to torture their own wives and children too while the tortured Africans went insane and sometimes ran down the streets screaming that they wanted to kill someone with a kitchen knife.

Similarly, Walter Rodney reported in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) that peace-loving Igbo women declared a non-violent war against the colonial authorities when they used the oppressive system of “double squeeze” to fix higher prices for imported manufactures like khaki or zinc and also fix lower prices for things like palm oil in 1929. The women won the right not to be taxed and not to have chiefs imposed on the indigenous democratic system. The men were forced to pay higher taxes and still the communities tasked themselves to build schools and clinics without much support from the colonizers. Having been forced to work for wages to earn money for taxes and levies, Rodney also recognized the sit-down strike by Nigerian coal miners who demanded to be paid living wages but who were massacred in Enugu in 1949. Against propaganda that regarded the 1967-1970 genocide against the Igbo in Biafra as the result of tribal conflict for which no genocidist was arrested or tried and no apology or reparations offered, Rodney observed that prior to colonization, the neighbors of the Igbo never ganged up against them to commit genocide perhaps because there is no African tribe known as Shell BP or the Labour Party government of the UK and the Soviet Union that orchestrated the genocide. He concluded that under colonialism (and neocolonialism by extension), the maintenance of law and order amounts to the maintenance of conditions favorable to exploitation. In an earlier book, The Groundings With My Brothers (1969), he recognized the Igbo as among the African nations that practiced direct democracy without kings and queens and he called on researchers to study this system of government to draw out good lessons. The military dictatorship of Olusegun Obasanjo tried to undermine this indigenous democratic system by imposing “traditional rulers” on the republican Igbo in 1976 despite the resounding victory won by Igbo women against such colonial “warrant chiefs” in 1929, according to Adiele Afigbo in The Warrant Chiefs (1972).

The classic work by Stuart Hall and colleagues, Policing the Crisis (1978), examined the discriminatory ways that the police targeted people of African descent in the UK as if they were an internal colony to be controlled by force rather than by consent in a democracy. Drawing lessons from the policing of enslaved Africans and from apartheid South Africa, the book demonstrated that when authoritarian populism is allowed to target a group of people for repression, it is the entire society that suffers as a consequence. In other words, poor white people in the UK and the US also suffered from the use of the police to oppress poor Black people and it would be in the interest of all to elect governments that are accountable to the poor so that policies would be put in place to end oppression and exploitation. Otherwise, the police would continue to be known as what Rastafarians call oppressive “Babylon” forces.

A key problem with the Marxist theory of criminal justice administration is that it appears to promise too much by implying that it is possible to allow the law and even the state to wither away, as Lenin put it following Friedrich Engels, so that communities can move from class rule to the administration of things in line with the principles of needs and capacities. Angela Davis argues that it is not utopian to imagine a more humane future with obsolescence of prisons, racism, sexism, exploitation, war, and imperialism, much like the way that indigenous societies lived for thousands of years before the conquest by capitalism and imperialism. Critics point out that actually existing socialist states have made more repressive laws and strengthened the proletarian state rather than allow socialist law and the dictatorship of the proletariat to wither away. Socialist countries should have been the first to abolish capitalist capital punishment and end the war on drugs, for instance, long before capitalist countries did. Ruth Gilmore convincingly argues that it is possible to abolish prisons and defund the police to free resources for community efforts to promote justice, peace and love without having to rely on what she called the Golden Gulag of mass incarceration as an alternative to the original indigenous systems of justice.

In Anthills of the Savannah (1987), Nigerian literary scholar Chinua Achebe spoke through the character of Ikem Osodi, a satirical editor of the National Gazette who gave a speech at a university and the students asked him if he believed in the dictatorship of the workers. He answered that he did not believe in a dictatorship of any sort, and he asked the students why they dreamed of ruling by dictatorship under a military dictatorship when they could not even organize peaceful students’ union elections free of fraud and intimidation. We agree with Achebe’s implication that community policing should be governed by the democracy of the masses and not by dictatorship of any sort, certainly not by genocidal racist-imperialist-patriarchal dictatorship, lest it is hijacked by elites addicted to the intoxicating drink of absolute power that corrupts absolutely.

Other theorists who support the oppressive powers of the rich disagreed with Marx about the intersectional oppressive class-race-gender character of law enforcement and criminal justice under capitalism. Emile Durkheim suggested that social control of deviance simply evolves as society evolves from what he called mechanical solidarity when allegiance to norms is automatic; to organic solidarity when industrialization brings about specialist organs with increased rules that people may choose to follow in their different areas of work. For instance, in the distant past, there were only few laws or commandments such as “thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal” or even fewer rules like “do unto others as you would like them to do unto you”. Durkheim spoke for the capitalist ruling class by assuming that punishment becomes less severe as the law evolves from sacred to profane rules.

According to Durkheim and without reference to the African holocaust during slavery, punishment tended to be more severe in those days because crimes against sacred rules were fewer. But as rules increased in density, punishment became less severe in secular societies where the deprivation of liberty (prison) or monetary fine became the major forms of punishment. For this reason, social control is very popular in every community as a means of uniting the people around what they collectively accept as their norms. When social change is rapid as could happen during a revolution, what people expect is no longer what they experience and so there would be an increase in deviance due to such “anomie”. The social control mechanisms serve the function of restoring the equilibrium in the society by rewarding law-abiding behaviors and punishing deviant ones. But deviance can never be completely prevented because it serves positive and essential functions in society, according to him.

African ancestors had no police force nor a court of law nor a prison to enforce those commandments against abomination but there were no cases of kidnapping, corruption, bribery, theft, rape, genocide or slavery except when Arabs and Europeans arrived to hunt Africans as prey for hundreds of years. Where Durkheim was mistaken is that he believed that every community has a collective conscience that governs their norms whereas the conscience of those who dominate a society is often in conflict with the conscience of the masses who are opposed to oppression and exploitation. Whose conscience was the collective conscience under apartheid, colonialism or slavery?

Another theorist, Max Weber, agreed that there is often conflict of interests in any community, giving rise to the domination of some over others. But he also disagreed with Marx about how to solve such conflicts. Marx preferred a complete revolution to change the structure of the society in the interest of all but Weber preferred a system of reforms to eliminate discrimination in the administration of justice through the rational ideal bureaucracy. According to him, there are three forms of authority when it comes to the administration of justice (viz. traditional, charismatic, and bureaucratic). Traditional authority depends on the knowledge of elders regarding what the culture or tradition accepts as normal and younger generations accept the opinions of the elders mechanically without question. But as society changes, religious authorities emerge to prophesy that God is angry because people are following their own hearts. People may look up to the charismatic leaders to come up with new laws of how to live a life of justice. Eventually, the charismatic leader is forced to routinize his authority by writing down the new rules to allow representatives to be elected to make the laws while professionally trained officials are organized in a hierarchy of authority to implement the laws without discrimination through the bureaucracy.

However, even Weber agreed that his rational ideal bureaucracy could result in what he called an iron cage that is inflexible in the administration of justice and that could result in caste-class-gender injustice. But he believed that the bureaucracy is the most technically superior way to administer justice in any society. He was not keen on democratic administration because he saw democracy as a form of domination by elites over others, and he ruled out pure democracy where all heads are equal. What the theory of Weber lacks is the element of compassion for the suffering of others. Community policing, popular justice, and reparative justice may be better ways of administering justice in democratic societies than the rational ideal bureaucracy. The Nigerian Police Force, for example, is a bureaucratic organization, but it is not capable of providing safety for communities unless the communities organize to defend themselves. The Nazi forces were also bureaucratized in a way that Weber would find rational and ideal but rather than deliver justice, they embarked on huge crimes against humanity until they were defeated by the allied forces. Nigerian governors are demanding for state police formations that would report to them and then through them to the federal police and thereby entrench the security state ideology that would further take power away from communities rather than empower community self-governance.

Just dessert theorists in Europe proposed what Pashukanis, following Marx, called the “commodity fetishism” in law, a capitalist system that places value on anything by treating it like a commodity to be exchanged in the market. According to Pashukanis, capitalist law insists punishment should be made to fit the crime as if someone was buying a commodity and the buyer is being charged a price calibrated to fit the value of the commodity. The trouble with commodity fetishism in law is that some crimes are so severe that no punishment would ever be calibrated to fit the seriousness of the crime. Besides, in capitalist societies like Nigeria, the crimes of the powerful are rarely calibrated under commodity fetishism to exact the fitting punishment but are treated with impunity while the poor and the powerless get given excessive punishment even when they are innocent, as Agozino theorized in Black Women and the Criminal Justice System and also in Counter-Colonial Criminology. Community policing calls for a return to our indigenous peace-making methods of social control by teaching vigilance, love, forgiveness, and respect; and by watching out for our brothers and sisters as ways to prevent crimes rather than rely exclusively on colonialist policing and the punishment of offenders. Only then will the youth stop protesting and demonstrating against the Serious Armed Robbery Squad in demand for #EndSARS despite being shot and killed in their dozens for expressing their freedom in 2020. The global #BlackLivesMatter movement directly supports our conclusion, in line with Angela Davis, Ruth Gilmore, Julia Chinyere Opara, and Vivianne Saleh-Hanna, among others, the hauntology of imperialist systems of policing need to be abolished to make way for more humane socialist management of the affairs of communities with inspiration from Critical Race Theory of race-class-gender intersectionality or articulation.

Extracts from Community Policing in Nigeria: Principles, Rationale, and Practice by Biko Agozino, Emmanuel C. Onyeozili, Augustine Agu and Patrick Ibe, forthcoming from Fourth Dimension