JUBA, South Sudan, July 15, 2020/ — Fear of contracting COVID-19, combined with a lack of protective gear, has put an end to patrols conducted by Police Community Relations Committees in Eastern Equatoria State. The resulting void has been filled by robbers, but now a UN-led campaign aims to revive patrolling practices to keep citizens safe.
“The grass has grown tall, and a lack of day and night community policing patrols has encouraged criminals to take advantage of the situation,” says Theresa Nahidich, sub chief of the Odikolong residential area in Torit town.
In Eastern Equatoria, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, have assisted in forming bodies known as Police Community Relations Committees, whose main task is to act as a human bridge between the police and the communities they serve and protect.
“If our boys conduct night patrols, the criminals cannot harm us. Their legwork supports the police in a big way,” says Nelson Taban, an elder in the area. He adds that people he suspects to be robbers gather nearby at dusk, waiting for night to fall.
Unfortunately, the pandemic Coronavirus is scaring those volunteers who normally move about keeping their eyes open for potential sources of danger. A lack of torchlights, raincoats, gumboots, mobile phones and membership identification cards (so that police officers and soldiers can differentiate between those on patrol and the ones with criminal intentions) has also contributed to the current standstill.
“It is risky to work in the cold, in heavy rains and on bushy roads without any adequate protection, so my group felt demotivated and doesn’t go out anymore,” laments Ahmed Kuku, chairperson of the community policing group in the area.
Keen on resurrecting the patrolling exercises, the two UN bodies which helped form the community policing committees have launched a COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign targeting the members of these groups.
Equipped with knowledge on the importance of frequent hand washing, physical distancing and the wearing of face masks when needed, the hope is that patrols will not only resume but also result in communities being informed about how to prevent the virus as well.
“As you go about keeping the area safe, it’s also a good idea to make villagers aware of necessary precautions to stop the Coronavirus from spreading,” UN police officer Julius Muzigiti advised.
As for the request for equipment to make working in rain and darkness a bit drier and lighter, the United Nations Development Programme is in the process of trying to provide such protective gear as well. If and when that happens will, however, depend on the willingness of donors to fund the needed items.