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Staff writer

In the wake of internal conflicts like that witnessed in Bosnia, community-based policing methods characteristic of Japan’s “koban” police box system are being introduced in war-torn countries, a police expert representing a Canadian peacekeeping organization said.

“It’s a style of policing we teach to other international police monitors when they come to conflicted environments,” said Graham Muir, an inspector with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Muir was recently in Tokyo with three other Canadian experts to give a training course on modern peacekeeping methods to representative members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Jointly sponsored by Japan, Canada and Malaysia, the first Asian meeting of its kind also saw participation by some European Union delegates. The course leader is Kenneth Eyre, director of research and development at the Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peacekeeping Training Center in Ottawa. “The new thinking in rebuilding a war-torn society,” where Eyre said the police force is always destroyed, “is that the Japanese system of community-based policing — the koban system — seems to be ideal and classic to help a society rebuild.”

Muir, who served in Bosnia under the auspices of the U.N. Civilian Police, said that following a conflict, the role of the U.N. force is very active, working in conjunction with the local police. “Community members are looking for a manifest improvement or demonstration that the key institutions are functioning, and functioning well.”

Muir said the success of such missions can be measured through relationships fostered with the people. Usually in such situations, the local police force has traditionally represented state control and not public service, and the community may lack respect for or be fearful of it, Muir explained.

However, “the success of such U.N. missions is realized when citizens start coming forward to lodge complaints through the system to help solve problems and even report police abuse with the belief that they will be helped,” Muir said.

Through working with the local police and winning community trust, Muir said, “Good deeds beget good deeds, and if the public comes to accept good behavior as the standard, we can change the expectations of the public.”

In Japan, the public takes for granted that police are easily accessible in every neighborhood, and it is a normal function that they are aware of who they serve on a somewhat personal basis. “This is a more constructive method, especially when it comes to international policing,” Muir said.

But bringing this kind of order to conflict is only a point of departure, Muir said. “If we tinker with the police, we must be able to deal with the judicial system and make the police more effective in the long term by also addressing the courts and correction system. “The hallmark of U.N. Civilian Police is in its close relationship with the community,” Muir said.

Members of the international force are encouraged to live with and learn from those they serve, as well as provide for themselves as much as they can. Because of their closeness to the local people, “civilian police are increasingly valued as the eyes and ears of the mission,” Muir said.

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