Like many communities in Serbia, the people of Kragujevac are concerned about local crime levels. As an area with high unemployment, Kragujevac was always prone to suffer from the effects of a sluggish economy. This was exacerbated by the perception that the city was headed in a downward spiral.
Things began to change for the better for the city in 2004 when it became a pilot for the introduction of the community policing concept and establishment of a municipal safety council (MSC). These bodies enable communities to address citizens’ concerns by bringing together representatives from the local community, the police, municipal administration, and the non-governmental sector. Around 80 such councils have now been set up across Serbia, with support from the OSCE.
In Kragujevac, the crime rate dropped significantly after the establishment of the MSC and trust in the police visibly grew, leading it to be declared the “safest city in Serbia” in 2010 by the UN Habitat Agency.
“Although many communities face similar concerns, some may have issues specific to their areas. Municipal safety councils provide a way to address those concerns, thereby providing the average person with a sense of inclusion at the grass-roots level,” says Edward Kabina, who works on community policing at the OSCE Mission.
Community policing is a part of the Serbian Interior Ministry’s first Development Strategy, a document that gives direction to the country's police reform work. The security of citizens and communities is among the key priorities of the strategy along with organization and management, partnership-based policing, police accountability and transparency.
“Our experiences show that security problems can be efficiently tackled only through the involvement of all parts of society, by sharing tasks and responsibilities,” says Golub Gacevic, the Head of the Department for Organization, Prevention and Community Policing of the Serbian Interior Ministry.
“Security advisory bodies are one way of expanding the base of stakeholders supporting the alleviation of safety problems facing local communities. Through consultation, analysis of the available information and identification of problems by the councils, the police can obtain community support for its actions,” he adds.
Serbia’s Community Policing National Plan is expected to be adopted by mid-2011, which will formally pave the way for the full implementation of community policing practices in Serbia as well as the establishment of safety councils on the national level. Both are requirements for Serbia’s EU accession process.
Currently, one problem the MSCs in Serbia face is a lack of funding. Therefore, eight municipalities in the country have been invited to participate in a pilot programme developed by the OSCE that will provide some initial financial support while developing fundraising skills for the future.
Three representatives from each of the councils of Becej, Kula, Kikinda, Zrenjanin, Zabalj, Vranje, Valjevo and Loznica will be given formal training in drafting project proposals, which will be followed by a grant of 3000 euro per municipality to develop a project on raising awareness of a chosen issue.
The OSCE Mission to Serbia hopes to enable the sustainability of the existing MSCs by developing their capacities for applying for donor funding in the future. If successful, the Mission will expand the project next year.
“The final goal is the establishment of a national MSC network, linking the MSCs both horizontally, among one another, and vertically, from municipality to district, province and national level,” explains Kabina.
Written by Aleksandra Zivkovic and Vladimir Kostic