Slums are notoriously under-manned in terms of police personnel, and people are reluctant to report crimes, especially those of a domestic or sexual nature. In an attempt to address the issues of crime, police violence, and mutual distrust between police and poor urban communities, the Alliance has developed a community-based approach to crime that makes police and slumdwellers partners rather than antagonists.

In 2003, the Alliance and the Commissioner of Police in Pune instituted an innovative community policing program. Local “police panchayats” were formed in settlements, consisting of seven women and three men from the locality and one police officer. The panchayats meet regularly to deal with local issues rarely addressed by formal processes, including theft and communal violence. Panchayats also address issues of great importance for women, including domestic violence and rape, which had previously gone unreported or unpunished.

This initiative created an important safe space to help communities, especially women, identify and resolve problems and protect themselves from violence and injustice and to promote community harmony.

Furthermore, police panchayats have helped slumdwellers and police see each other in a different light. Instead of thinking of slums as dens of vice and crime, police learn about the factors contributing to crime and get to know the people working to improve their communities. And slumdwellers gradually overcome their fear of the police as they build trusting relationships.

Improved relationships at a local level also translate into larger scale changes: Mumbai’s police commissioner himself has promoted the panchayats as an effective and humane way of preventing crime in slums. Moreover, as the reputation of the panchayats has spread, communities around the world have begun to adopt community policing initiatives based on the Alliance model.

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