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Improving Security

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While the security situation in Liberia has been described as calm and stable but fragile,[1] the most pressing security concerns identified by respondents were witchcraft and crimes in their communities, including robberies, beatings and other criminal acts. Encouragingly, most respondents saw security improving, or at least not worsening. Half the respondents (59%) reported an improvement in overall security over the one-year period prior to the survey and another 37% said the safety situation had stayed the same. Just 4% reported that the situation had worsened. Almost all respondents believed that safety would continue to improve in the foreseeable future (78%) or stay the same (20%). The respondents were most pessimistic about both past and future improvement in the southeastern part of the country, including Grand Kru, Maryland, River Gee, and Rivercess.

Table 18: Improving Security

Table 18 - Improving Security

Figure 16: Security

 Security

The survey further explored what could be done to improve security and prevent future violence. The responses show a wide range of opinions about both prevention and intervention. The most frequent answers were education and educating the youth (56%), as well as improving the capacity of the police (52%), reducing poverty (45%), providing social services to the community (36%), and uniting the people of Liberia (32%).

Thirteen percent of the respondents suggested that an improved national army would contribute to improved security, though this opinion was more common in the central and western counties than in the southeastern ones. Uniting the people of Liberia was a frequent answer in Lofa County, where tribal violence was identified as undermining safety more frequently than elsewhere.

The link between war-related violence and local crimes is uncertain and has not been explored directly in this survey. It is possible that the availability of weapons, broken social ties, Post-Conflict trauma, ongoing divisions, and impunity or lack of accountability for crimes committed during the conflict may create conditions for a high crime rate. On the other hand, crimes may be caused by lack of economic opportunity, or other such factors promoting crime. Further analysis does give some insight into Liberians’ perceptions of these links, however. Answers on improving security are consistent with the mechanisms respondents proposed to build a lasting peace, such as educating the youth, reducing poverty, and uniting the people of Liberia, making a link between day-to-day security and overall peace. Just 32% of the respondents mentioned unity as a means to increase security, but 74% mentioned uniting the tribes as a means to build a lasting peace. This suggests that for Liberians, most crimes may not be rooted in ethnic divisions, but rather result from socio-economic factors; indeed respondents emphasized the need for education and reducing poverty to increase security.

The Security Sector

Improving the capacity of the police was the second most frequently cited means to increase security (see above). To understand this recommendation, the survey further explored perceptions of and contact with the police and the security sector in general. Perceptions of the police appeared to be mixed and varied across counties. One in three respondents (34%) stated that nobody provides security in their locality, indicating that they did not feel protected by the police. This response was most frequent in the southeastern counties, especially in Grand Kru (54%) and Rivercess (62%). However, another third (33%) did mention police protection, and overall police were the most frequently cited source of security. Other formal actors in the security sector were seldom mentioned, including UNMIL or UN Police (4%) and the military (1%). On the other hand, informal actors such as community watch teams (26%), individuals themselves (myself, my family 15%), or local defense groups (9%) were frequently mentioned. Notably, community watch teams were cited as the foremost security provider in Nimba (42%), while the county also had the lowest share of people stating that nobody provides security in their locality. In Bomi, Margibi, and Rural Montserrado, about one respondent in ten mentioned rubber companies as providing security. God was mentioned by 17% of respondents, though in Bong and Gbarpolu Counties God was the most frequently mentioned source of security (21% and 16%, respectively).[2]

Figure 17: Sources of Security

 Sources of Security

Table 19: Security Sector

Table 19 - Security Sector

Access to and Contact with the Police

Overall, police were the most frequently cited source of local protection across Liberia, although they were mentioned by just 33% of the population. A majority of the population (74%) reported knowing how to contact the police if needed, and 84% said they would be able to locate the nearest police station, suggesting a wide police presence. In most cases (53%) the police station was located within an hour of walking. Access to the police was worst in the counties of Bong and Rivercess, both in terms of knowing how to access the police and distance to the nearest police station. In addition, over one in ten respondents indicated living at least a five hours’ walk away from the nearest police station in Bong (14%), Gbarpolu (10%), and Sinoe (13%). In Bong and Gbarpolu, over 30% of the respondents were unable to estimate the time needed to go to the nearest station, which reflects their lack of contact with the police and the low perception of the police as a security provider in these counties (see above).

According to the survey results, over one in four respondents had asked assistance from the police at some point during their lives. The type of assistance was not assessed. The proportion was highest in Greater Monrovia (43%) and Rural Montserrado (31%), where access to the police was identified generally as easier. Among those who had contact with the police, over half (56%) reported having had to pay something, most frequently for the police to investigate their case (29%) or simply to file their complaint (29%). Payments to police for all or part of their services were most frequent in Sinoe (66%), Greater Monrovia (63%), Bong (62%), and Lofa (62%).

Table 20: Access and Contact with the Police

Table 20 - Access and Contact with the Police

 


[1] http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/detail/92184.html, accessed 10 June 2011.

[2] In Bong County, only 18% of adult Liberians listed the police as a security provider, after God (26%) and community watch groups (21%).