Community Policing

Solving problems together

 

Information and communication technologies play an immensely important role in the lives of young people. Mobile phones (Smartphones) social media sites, messenger applications and so on are part of daily life of youths. ICT has changed the lives of young people around the world. But it also exposes some risks to human security. Data protection issues are one of them but also different forms of harassment or even violence are related to the use of ICT.Young people spent a significant amount of their time in schools together with their peers. As much as schools are important locations for learning and socialization they can be focal points for a variety of problems related to adolescents. Schools, therefore, are ideal and essential places for COP to engage in preventive work.  

Definition: Cyberbullying

‘Bullying’ is usually defined as being an aggressive, intentional act or behavior that is carried out by a group or an individual repeatedly and over time against a victim who can not easily defend him or herself. In recent years, bullying through electronic means, specifically, mobile phones or the internet has emerged, often collectively labeled ‘cyberbullying’. It is defined as ‘an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself’.

On a side note: there is no term or concept in most Balkan cultures which specifically describe bullying or cyberbullying. The problem with that is that phenomena that cannot be named have a low chance of being discussed

Use of ICT by Youths

Recent studies have shown that children and young people use the internet and digital devices frequently and that this utilization increases the older they grow. A UNICEF study from 2013 in Serbia[1] states that in the 4th form of primary school 84% of the students use mobile phones and 94% of senior primary school students. In the study over 90% of students and far over 90% of the senior primary school students (4th form) and secondary school students used computers. Interestingly, there are no significant differences between the use of the internet by boys and girls nor are there differences among older aged children from smaller and larger places. The internet activities of youths can be divided into three groups: Communication, fun and finding information. The first two make up for the larger part of internet activities young people engage in. This also suggests, that young people barely consume traditional forms of media, such as newspapers or print magazines.

One important way for COP to relate to and build a relationship with youth is by reacting to the special issues young people deal with in daily life and which are perceived as problematic or risky either by themselves or the community. One of these issues that is a growing problem amongst young people but to a much lesser extent to adults is cyberbullying. Recent studies from several countries suggest that 20% to 40% of young people were at some point in their lives victims of cyberbullying.[2] Although not as widespread as traditionally, bullying has become more of a problem with the proliferation and use of ICT by children and youth. The forms in which cyberbullying can occur are manifold.

  • Harassment – sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages and being abusive.
  • Denigration –  sending fake, ridicule and damaging information and photos about another person.
  • Flaming –  using purposely extreme and offensive language.
  • Impersonation – hacking into someone’s or creating a fake email or social networking account and use the person's online identity to send or post vicious or embarrassing material to/about others.
  • Cyber Stalking – repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm, harassment, intimidating messages that make a person afraid for his or her safety.
  • Threatening behavior – often threats against the personal well being and even life are made on the internet.
  • Cyber grooming – befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child through the internet to lower the child's inhibitions for sexual contact.

While some of these offenses are not illegal per se, they can very easily turn into illegal behavior and may have negative effects for the present and future life of youngsters. Often the way one has been treated becomes a model for one’s own behavior especially when no consequences are observed. Moreover, the line between verbal and non-verbal aggression is increasingly fading Cyberstalking very often develops into stalking in the real world. Cyber grooming easily develops into child molesting or sexual exploitation. Facing these various forms of cyberbullying and the distinction between legal, although deviant, and illegal behavior shows how many different forms of behavior the notion includes.

The Role of Adults

Awareness amongst parents, schools, communities and the police about these forms of deviant or criminal behaviors are still relatively low. The reasons for that vary but one might be that many of the older generations are not completely aware of the ICT use of youths and the possibilities these new technologies offer. Two third of the children in the aforementioned UNICEF study from Serbia[3] assessed the computer and internet skills of their parents as poorly. Children from other European countries assess the skills of their parents much better. Nevertheless, nearly half of the children in the UNICEF study reported that their parents imposed some rules of internet use on them while the other half has no limitations at all. With a view to the growing issue of cyberbullying the parental oversight is of significant relevance.          

Whereas traditionally bullying was often concentrated in schools and with that best addressed by teachers, cyberbullying is not limited to schoolyards or classrooms. Victims can be bombarded with hurtful messages and content at any time and anywhere. The effects on the victims can be devastating and range from depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem and a doubled likelihood of attempting suicide.[4]  Whereas historically bullying has been being excused as a normal part of growing up (“kids being kids”), there are a growing number of cases where cyberbullying should be taken more seriously. Three factors make cyberbullying considerably more serious:

  1. It is not restricted to time and places.
  2. It can be conducted anonymously.
  3. It has a potential worldwide audience.[5]

These limits of cyberbullying, the high risk of becoming illegal or even criminal behavior indicates, that this is a topic best dealt with by preventive measures initiated by all relevant stakeholders.

Cyberbullying is best addressed in schools but not limited to students and teachers. Cyberbullying should be explicitly included in school anti-bullying policies and anti-bullying materials, and in teacher training materials for anti-bullying work. In addition, parents, children, and young people should be educated in that matter. Involving the police as well as mobile phone companies and internet providers at an early stage, meaning a preventive stage before crimes are committed, might be useful.

Although research is scarce, it might be worthwhile to take the inter-ethnic perspective into account when dealing with bullying and violence among youths. Findings show that particularly young people with ethnic minority backgrounds have a high risk of being victimized by peers. Measures to tackle the issue might, therefore, include awareness raising, understanding of non-discrimination understanding of diversity and tolerance. 

Involving the police in the reporting stage of an incident is important. It is likewise important to keep in mind, that it cannot be the task of the police to convert a bad person into a good one. The majority of cyberbullying cases cannot and should not be handled by the police. Nevertheless, the police should take preventive measures to send the message that the unlimited opportunities of the internet do not mean that it is a space where laws are not enforced. This does not necessarily mean that criminal courts have to be involved. Other means such as justice circles involving teachers and parents or other conflict resolutions have often proven to be much more efficient. Particularly for the victims, it is of great value making others understand, how bullying affected them.

Preventive approaches are superior to reactive approaches as the former address the root causes of harmful behavior without criminalizing young people. Internet safety should be, just like traffic safety or drug prevention, be addressed by COP Officers during talks in schools. The goal of that should not be to scare students into behaving properly (as it is often the case in drug prevention education) but rather teaching awareness of risks online and to encourage taking safety in their own hands. But not only should children and youth be educated. Parents are often either unaware or unable to continue parenting their children online and monitor their activities just as they would do in the real world. CP officers might play a role to educate parents as well as school administrators about how to talk about internet safety to the children.[6]

ICT and Bullying in Schools

A number of mobile applications that address the issue cyberbullying have been developed over the past year. They can either be used by students and/or teacher. The focus of these apps is the anonymous recording and reporting of incidents as one major concern for victims is the fear of embarrassment or even retaliation for outing bullies. The reporting goes mostly to school officials but can be in some cases be extended to law enforcement as well. Some of these apps include an educational dimension as well where games or simulations should teach children about what is (cyber-)bullying and what can be done against it. However, effective systems require an overall strategy implemented by school officials. The efforts are considerably high as mobile applications do not replace trustful teacher-student relationships but ideally complement them. If implemented properly the most valuable effect of these apps lies within the deterrent potential for the reason that bullies are at higher risk of being detected and punished. Moreover, a number of other issues can be addressed through reporting apps, such as drug abuse or illegal weapons in schools.  

School Violence and COP

Peer-to-peer violence in schools has become a pressing issue not only in the Western Balkans but all over Europe. Schools remain one of the most important places where children and young people spend a great deal of their time and socialize with peers. It is not surprising that most of the conflicts related to traditional bullying and violence occur in schools. Serious incidences of school violence occur regularly in Kosovo, sometimes cold weapons or even firearms are involved. In recent years in Kosovo cases of violence of teachers against children and the question of corporal punishment in schools gained increased media attention. For example, a Youtube clip circulated showing a teacher beating a student. A recent study from Pristina found out that 21% of students do not feel entirely safe in schools, and 47% of parents share the same opinion when their children are in school. Moreover, 45% of students declared that during the last semester a teacher has hit or beaten a student. These results are accompanied by the fact that over 51% of students, 41% of parents and 24% teachers are of the view that physical punishment in school can be tolerated in specific cases.[7] However, it is important to add, that the by far highest perceived risk to the security of students is traffic on the way to and from schools followed by stray dogs and not falling victim to violence.  

While student fights are the most commonly reported issues in Pristina schools, respondents reported a high number of pupil-teacher fights as well.[8] A recent study from Serbia found out that a fifth of the students reported physical violence from peers. A study conducted in 9 high-schools in Vojvodina Serbia reported that at least 42% have had experiences of violence once, several times or regularly during primary education.

Teacher Student Violence and Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment both in schools and homes is still an accepted practice in Kosovo as a UNICEF survey found out in 2005. Back then, even children expressed the belief that they deserve physical punishment for misbehavior or academic failure. Teachers and parents characterized violence as a necessary means to teach children how to behave appropriately. The collected data revealed that one in ten older children said that teachers rarely physically abused them. 61% of these children said they never witnessed teachers slapping, pushing or otherwise physically abusing other children while just under one quarter stated that situations like these were rare.[9] The numbers of verbal abuse by teachers were higher with 17% stating they have been verbally abused rarely. Available newer cases suggest that this has not changed significantly in the past ten years.

COP and School Violence

Schools are often a reflection of the community they are located in. Effective COP, therefore, needs to include the community outside the school in its scope.[10] The advantage of COP engagement in schools is the fact that usually the different stakeholders are very clearly defined comprising the school administration, teachers, parents, neighbors of the school and most importantly the students. This well-defined set of interest groups creates a favorable basis for police engagement with schools in various ways.[11] Particularly the direct neighborhoods of schools play an important role in policing as students and teachers regularly identify the way to and back home from schools as one of the least safe times of the school day.

In recent years, the Kosovo Police has increasingly turned to address the issue of school violence by implementing various measures. According to Saferworld, the municipality of Prizren is known for being successful in the preventions of school violence by implementing measures, such as the development of internal school regulations in participation with parent and student councils and the installation of cameras in the school.[12] So far security cameras seem to be the number one protective measure against school violence in Kosovo as reported by 56% of the teachers followed by school Uniforms (48%) and the use of school guards (39%). The mentioned Safety Councils comprised of parents, teachers, school directors and students have been established in most schools in Kosovo but apparently approximately only half of them are functional.[13]

The role of COP in schools is, however, more diffuse up to date although the aforementioned study showed that police engagement is desired by all stakeholders involved. The study from Pristina found out that 62% of the teachers, 56% of parents and 46% of the students prefer the presence of a civilian police officer in schools over educational lecturer or police visits and patrols.[14] Police officers in schools are a recent trend in a number of countries and widely viewed as an effective way to address crime and antisocial behavior. But there are a number of affiliated risks and preconditions for effective police involvement in schools that should be taken into account.

 

Sexual Harassment

Although sexual harassment is not particularly a youth topic, it has strong relevance for the daily life of young people. For a more general overview, please see the section on Sexual Harassment and COP. Sexual Harassment and sexual abuse can have a devastating impact on the development of young people, specifically on children. Traumatization, depression, eating disorders, anxieties and relationship problems, to name only some of the effects sexual abuse can have especially when occurring over a longer childhood or adolescent period. Although very often considered as a taboo in communities, sexual harassment is a topic COP has to deal with. According to a UNICEF survey from 2007, 10% of the students in Serbia reported exposure to sexual harassment in schools.[15] A UNICEF study in Kosovo from 2005 found out that 6% of students mentioned having experienced sexual harassment by teachers. 12% of children between 11 and 18 reported they knew children who had been sexually abused by their parents although it occurred rarely.[16]

A study conducted in Kosovo in 2016 in Kosovo adds to these reasons why specifically youth is affected by sexual harassment. First of all, compared to older people younger people were not able to identify sexual harassment. Second of all, the study found out that there is a fairly widespread belief (40,5%) among both young men and women that “young women like being harassed”.[17]   

 

Definition: Sexual Harassment

EU Directives define sexual harassment as instances when any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature occurs, with the purpose of effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

As most people think of sexual harassment as rape or unwelcomed touching a wide variety of acts qualify as sexual harassment under this definition. Here are some

  • sexual jokes against a person’s will
  • whistling in the street
  • referring to a person with pejorative or sexually charged names such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘baby’
  • pressuring a person to go out (for example for coffee)
  • looking and making sexual gestures against the person’s will
  • pressure for sexual favors
  • sending letters, making phone calls without a person’s permission

This is not the place for discussing if this includes behavior that has to be considered as socially adequate. There is no doubt as well that some of the named behaviors are not illegal or even deviant. And it also becomes clear that qualifying an act as sexual harassment is in some parts strongly depending on the will or permission of the alleged victims which raises the complexity of differentiating between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

 

Schools and Universities

Schools and Universities can be hotspots for sexual harassment either from peers or from teachers and professors. Incidents often go unreported especially when teaching staff is involved for the fear of disadvantages and punishments. For incidents between students often guidelines exist of how the case should be handled by the staff. But often they appear to be overwhelmed or simply not qualified to deal properly with these sensitive issues. In Kosovo, for example, the Law on Pre-University Education obliges educational directorates in municipalities, in cooperation with police, parents, and other relevant institutions, to react if an offense happens in or near schools. But a study from eight municipalities showed that these policies were not implemented and only a few school teachers, pedagogues, and psychologists had knowledge about which laws even protect citizens from sexual harassment. It concludes that the general lack of knowledge about what sexual harassment entails and how to respond to it is likely to undermine the efforts of preventing and address the issue effectively.[18]

Despite these issues, it is important to notice that education plays an important role in the prevention of sexual harassment. It is crucial to teach and sensitize young students for the topic in order to reduce cases, promote respectful behavior and to encourage students to report incidents to the respective authorities (teacher, parents, police etc.). Early age educational prevention must be considered much more effective than applying repressive measures when students are at a later stage of their development.

COP Responses to Sexual Harassment

The role COP can play in the prevention of Sexual Harassment aside from educational activities is rather limited. In western countries, for example, the presence of police has increased significantly the past years to address problems of crimes, truancies, bullying and other antisocial behavior including sexual harassment. In addition, the safeguarding of children at risk of violent extremism came into focus in recent times. Police presence in schools remains a controversial strategy whose effectiveness particularly with a view to sexual harassment incidents in contested by criminologists. In the UK, for example, the Safer School Partnerships were introduced involving police officers working in a school on a regular basis with the aim intervene early with students at risk of offending and improve relations between pupils, the police, and the wider community.[19] The success of these partnerships depends heavily on the individual expertise and enthusiasm of the police officers and their ability and personal skills to engage with children and youngsters. Evaluations of the program pointed to the fact that officers can quickly become isolated in the school environment and trust-based relationships with pupils are hard to create and maintain.

 

[1] UNICEF 2013: Utilisation of digital technologies, risks, and incidence of digital violence among students in Serbia. https://www.unicef.org/serbia/Digital_Violence_Summary_2013.pdf

[2] Broll, Huey 2014: “Just Being Mean to Somebody Isn’t a Police Matter”, 157.

[3] UNICEF 2013: Utilisation of digital technologies, risks, and incidence of digital violence among students in Serbia.https://www.unicef.org/serbia/Digital_Violence_Summary_2013.pdf

[4] Broll, Huey 2014: “Just Being Mean to Somebody Isn’t a Police Matter”, 158.

[5] Vandenbosch et. al. 2012: Police actions with regard to cyberbullying: The Belgian Case, 646.

[6] Broll, Huey 2014: “Just Being Mean to Somebody Isn’t a Police Matter”, 169.

[7] UNDP 2015: Action Paper on violence and security in public schools of the Municipality of Pristina, 12.

[8] Ibid, 5.

[9] UNICEF 2005: Research into Violence against children in schools in Kosovo, 49.

[10] Police Foundation 2011: Safer School Partnerships, 6.

[11] UNODC 2011: Handbook Policing urban spaces, 54.

[12] Saferworld 2011: Public perceptions of safety and security in Kosovo: Time to act, 27.

[13] UNDP 2015: Action Paper on violence and security in public schools of the Municipality of Pristina, 17.

[14] Ibid, 11.

[15] Claim 2013: Human Security Chronicle 6, 2

[16] UNICEF 2005: Research into Violence against children in schools in Kosovo, 49.

[17] Kosovo Women’s Network 2016: Sexual Harassment in Kosovo, 4.

[18] Kosovo Women’s Network 2016: Sexual Harassment in Kosovo, 38.

[19] Police Foundation 2011: Safer School Partnerships, 2.

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ICT4COP: A Research Project
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