Technology, education, community - building blocks of a modern police force

October 21, 2012

Modernization has been the government's catchterm in the effort to improve the operational capability of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

As recent as the month of March this year, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released close to P254-M in funds to purchase firearms for the country's police force. The DBM said this initiative, under the Capability Enhancement Program of the PNP modernization effort, will improve to as much as 94% the firearm-officer ratio of the PNP, which stood at 1:17 prior to the procurement drive.

A uniformed policeman with a sidearm does complete a citizen's picture of a typical law enforcer - on the beat and keeping the peace in the community. Or does it?

City of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Alan E. Salvosa displays the typical gear issued to Brooklyn Center patrol police officers to an audience composed of University of the Cordilleras (UC) criminology interns, their teachers, as well as PNP officers from the Baguio City and Tuba, Benguet police offices.

Officer Salvosa, son of UC Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Ray Dean Salvosa, held a lecture-forum on Brooklyn Center police systems on October 13 as part of the UC-CCJE's networking and institutional development initiatives.

The younger Salvosa said aside from their sidearm - a 9mm automatic pistol - the standard patrol officer's gear issued by the Brooklyn Center Police Department include a bullet-proof vest worn over or under the uniform, a telescopic baton, and a non-lethal electroshock weapon called Taser. In the patrol car is an assault rifle (MP15) with two, twenty round magazines.

He added equipment kept on belt include handcuffs, two sets of gloves - one disposable for medical situations and a protective pair for conducting searches, mace, radio, flashlight, as well as leg restraints called "hobble."

This formidable 21st century image of a Brooklyn Center police officer is tempered only by traditional operational and tactical approaches, officer Salvosa said. "The use of deadly force is deployed only as a last resort," he said. "The rule is to employ the least amount of force. Dialogue with a subject is still encouraged, and force escalation is employed only as a means to draw compliance and not to punish."

Born in the US but raised in Baguio City, officer Salvosa attended the University of Minnesota before joining the US Armed Forces for deployment in Iraq. After his stint with the US military, he signed up for the Brooklyn Center police department and has been a police officer since.

He said he conducts his work in law enforcement from a custom designed, state-of-the-art patrol car which is fully-equipped with data extraction devices such as a global positioning system and computerized data base to verify details, for instance, of stolen vehicles or identities of offenders. The vehicle's communication systems provide up-to-date information from professional police dispatchers on specific details of situations arising from calls he has to respond to while on duty.

He adds, however, that while technology has indeed made law enforcement convenient with fingertip access to information, a police officer's education, instincts and knowledge of the environment is still imperative "because technology might fail at any given time."

UC-CCJE mentor Dr. Ariel B. Pumecha said having a US law enforcement unit's systems as a benchmark for Philippine law enforcement is not such a tall order. "In fact, patrol officers should have the capabilities and equipment that Mr. Salvosa described because they are frontliners in law enforcement and are in direct contact with the community."

An important capability built into Brooklyn Center police officers is knowledge in administering medical treatment, being the "first responders" in medical emergencies. Officer Salvosa said this is the reason why their patrol cars are also equipped with portable emergency medical equipment.

Dr. Pumecha added while local governments may not have the finances for a fully-equipped squad car yet, resources might be readily spared for bullet-proof vests, for instance. "In this manner, as the government provides PNP operatives with individual firearms for protection, a bullet-proof vest might also spare their lives in case of a shootout."

But officer Salvosa said "proactive law enforcement" is a way to prevent police procedures from escalating into violence. The Community Oriented Policing System (COPS), an approach to law enforcement that is now common to both US and Philippine police, focuses on "priority law enforcement problems" in a given locality as law enforcers engage in research and analysis on what is known about the problem and recommends a lasting solution to it.

On the other hand, officer Salvosa said the COPS approach is also about involving the community in law enforcement. The holding of community meetings, for instance, will draw on specific law enforcement issues from the community "because it is the community who are witnesses to everyday problems and occurrences."

Dr. Pumecha agrees that community involvement is important in law enforcement. The uniformed "beat cop" is in fact the "frontliner" in police-community relations, he said. The PNP brass has taken cognizance of this importance since the time former PNP Director General Avelino Razon instituted the concept of "Mamang Pulis" and "Aleng Pulis."

"Heightened police visibility is the clamor of the community," he said in an interview. "This will be the best deterrence to street crime."

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