Two officers of the Myanmar Police Force stand in a room in Yangon arguing. Both men strain their voices in frustration as they wave their arms and pace around one another. Other officers look on in silence, not wanting to interfere. Mere seconds ago, the room had been filled with laughter, but now all eyes are on the two warring officers. Finally, a captain steps forward. He stands between the men and asks “why are you shouting?”
The two officers answer at once and yell over one another. The captain calmly asks them to speak one at a time. He listens to both sides and, slowly, the peace is restored.
“Excellent! That was perfect. Thank you, all three of you,” says Trevor McKeown as he steps forward and shakes each officer’s hand. “Notice how the captain approached the two and asked them why they were shouting. He didn’t simply order them to stop. Instead, he treated them with respect and resolved the situation.”
Twenty police officers nod and scribble down a few notes. This is the third day of their training and Trevor, a former officer with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is their instructor. The two arguing officers and the helpful captain were each his volunteers to help illustrate how to resolve disputes respectfully. The training continues with an explanation of how officers can police the public while still treating them with dignity. It’s all part of finding ways to engage with others, so that police can build a relationship with the communities they serve.
That relationship is the core of community policing and what makes it a key part of MYPOL’s work in Myanmar. Through our implementing partner, NI-CO, we offer community policing trainings to the Myanmar Police Force in order to support their transition into a modern agency.
For this first training, Trevor, along with Bill Priestley, Roberta Morris, and Paul Mayne, recently came to Yangon to conduct a three-week course. As former members of the Northern Irish Police Service, they know exactly how difficult it can be to build trust. Each have their own stories of what it was like to work with Northern Irish communities that, in the past, would have killed them given the chance. But through their efforts as police officers, they won the public’s confidence and helped Northern Ireland overcome its troubled past.
The lessons they brought to Myanmar focused on emotional intelligence training, which includes how officers can self-regulate their behaviours to better engage with the public. Most often, behaviour breeds behaviour, so the attitudes of police officers get reflected back on them from the community they mean to serve. If an officer has a negative attitude, so too will the community.
Before the first day was over, the forty MPF officers were beginning to see the importance of the training. One officer said that, initially, he only attended because he’d been ordered to go. But, he said, “after a few days, I have changed. I’ve learned a lot of skills that I can use at my police station – like how to understand people’s minds, how I can convince them and how I can collaborate between police and public. I will use all these skills.”
Many officers said similar things and also expressed their excitement about sharing the lessons they’d learned with their fellow officers back home. MYPOL’s trainings will help with this by instructing them on how to train others in community policing. With this, police can put MYPOL’s lessons to practice and more police across Myanmar can begin to engage with their communities.