Citizen Board Keeps Police In Touch

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A distraught Turkish fruitseller pours out a tale of woe to a couple of police officers - one male, one female - who have just pulled up in a Volkswagen bus.

Her store apparently has been robbed, and the police are there to take down the particulars. How well do they relate to their community? Are they going to be able to do anything about this episode other than file a report? These are the questions that are being asked of the police nowadays.

The "American model" of policing may be controversial, but both advocates and critics support its emphasis on crime prevention and on making sure the officers on the beat know their community.

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In the German borough of Wedding, just west of the remains of the Berlin Wall, citizens and the police have worked together to start a community anticrime board involving school officials, youth advocates, women's groups, and business leaders.

"We get everybody around the table, and when there are problems, we talk about them," says Heidemarie Fischer, a Social Democrat who serves on the interior affairs committee of the Berlin Chamber of Deputies. "All the responsible parties are there, so if we need to ask for more undercover officers to work the neighborhood, or more street workers to reach out to young people, we can get them."

Such boards have long been in existence in "Anglo-Saxon countries and in Scandinavia. But we Germans have to come along and reinvent the wheel," she says self-deprecatingly.

There have been a lot of calls for strong police action in the face of rising crime, Ms. Fischer says, "but thoughtful people know there's more to it than just that. The question is, what kind of society do we want? How do we deal with our cities? How do we prevent the development of slums?"

Two other experiments in community policing are to be launched at the beginning of next year in the boroughs of Neuklln and Friedrichshain. Under that experiment, 23 "service groups" will be set up, each with responsibility for security within its territory. "We call it the 'Berlin model,' " says Klaus Eisenreich, secretary and spokesman for the Berlin branch of the police union, GdP. "People are supposed to be able to see their police on the beat. And responsibility is being shifted downward - from the police headquarters to the local precinct house."

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