The Public Foundation created the “We and Law Legal Clinic” to improve perceptions and communication between police officers and adolescents in Kyrgyzstan.
The population of Kyrgyzstan has often had a negative attitude toward the police force. This has been connected with the sometimes high levels of human rights violations by law enforcement personnel and with their lack of interaction with the general population in the protection of public order. Often, this fear and distrust of police officers is based on second-hand information or is due to a lack of understanding of the police force’s role in the community.
In 2001, the Public Foundation decided to address this issue by working with adolescents. The “We and Law Legal Clinic” program has police officers from the Juvenile Delinquency Inspection (JDI) and Juvenile Delinquency Commission (JDC) teaching law lessons to students in the 9th and 10th grades in school districts across Kyrgyzstan. Through this program, minors can learn from police officers substantive information about their rights and responsibilities in addition to practicing cooperative learning with the police and with each other.
In order to organize this program, the Public Foundation started by organizing workshops for police officers. In these sessions, the police officers were trained in methods for teaching law and were taught pedagogical skills for teaching adolescents. Trainers actually taught the 9th grade level “We and Law” lessons to the officers in order to provide them with an understanding of why minors violate laws and how they can help teenagers understand and appreciate the law.
Every “We and Law” lesson contains basic information on laws and human rights protection and also emphasizes the importance of two kinds of communication: first, between the police officers and the pupils and second, among the pupils themselves. The lessons include role-play situations, discussions, group work, presentations, and time to share opinions. This kind of lesson structure provided a wide range of opportunities for communication between the officers and pupils, thus strengthening their relationship of trust.
As a result of the “We and Law Legal Clinic” program, thirty police officers are now teaching weekly lessons in thirty schools across Kyrgyzstan. Through these courses, trusting relationships have been established which have led to a reduced crime rate among those adolescents in the program as well as to a lower number of human rights violations among the police officers. One pupil told the Public Foundation, “After these lessons I’ve known that the cop is also a human being, and that he can be kind. He can help to solve the problems using the laws; he is not the person who is trying to punish me.” Each pupil who completed the “We and Law” class received a certificate from a high police official such as the captain or chief.
The Public Foundation encountered a number of challenges that they had to overcome in developing and implementing the “We and Law Legal Clinic” project. Some police officers were not eager to participate in the training lessons designed for the 9th grade pupils, arguing that they knew more about law than the trainers did. However, the trainers continued to stress that the goal of their participation in these lessons was not to teach the officers about law, but to help them to understand the pupils and their needs. This training was important in order for the officers to be able to create a relationship of trust with the adolescents and possibly to prevent delinquency.
Officers also had to be trained to create a “democratic atmosphere” in their classrooms. The Public Foundation found that the officers were naturally inclined to act like commanders, but this method was not successful with adolescents. Only through democratic communication would the pupils speak about their attitudes and impressions of the laws. By insisting on collaboration between officers and secondary school teachers, the Public Foundation was able to help the officers learn how to conduct lessons productively. Because the officers were able to witness how the teachers conducted parts of the “We and Law” lessons, they were exposed to the manner by which a friendly and democratic classroom is established.
Once these challenges were overcome, the “We and Law Legal Clinic” was successful in increasing the mutual respect between adolescents and members of the police force. It also emphasized that the police force is interested in youth legal education and the protection of human rights, which added to the legitimacy of the project and the positive response from the pupils.
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One of the most significant lessons from this tactic is the importance of proper advocate training. Had the Public Foundation simply put police officers at the front of classrooms without training them on how to teach adolescents in advance, their project could have backfired. However, with proper training, the officers were able to establish good relationships with the students. This lesson is important for any organization hoping to improve the relationship between two groups. Communication will run much more smoothly if each group has an idea of what to expect from the other.