Indigenous communities can benefit from internal policing

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In response to the tragic murders in Saskatchewan this month, calls for local, community-led police forces in Indigenous communities have grown.

Community-led policing for Indigenous communities would be a step in the right direction, but only if existing systemic problems aren’t replicated.   

The institution of policing is fundamentally flawed and continues to fail the same vulnerable populations. A new system for communities like James Smith Cree Nation shouldn’t be modeled after the current policing system if the goal is to better protect them.

While policing isn’t effective to address all crime and shouldn’t be relied on as the sole means of community protection, leaving law enforcement to communities often results in lower crime rates.

Internal policing is perhaps the best way to give reserve communities the protection they need, improve response times, and reduce fallout from violent crimes in the future. 

It’s difficult to think of a better group to handle a community’s protection than its own members, and a blueprint for this kind of system already exists elsewhere in Canada.

However, implementing community police forces is more complex than it seems at first glance. Reserves  officially share policing responsibilities with the federal government, but in practice their role has been limited.

Unfortunately, the RCMP and local police aren’t meeting the needs of communities such as the James Smith Cree Nation. It’s also hard to have faith that including the RCMP in the development of an Indigenous-led police system would be effective given existing systemic issues

An Indigenous-led police system must address the needs of the community it serves rather than existing as a veneer of progressivism. We have an opportunity to address the racism built into our policing system, but the mere appearance of progress is insufficient. 

As a country, we must avoid excluding Indigenous peoples from decision-making that involves them, especially regarding policing given the RCMP’s history of anti-Indigenous racism. 

Every Indigenous community is unique in how they want to interact with non-Indigenous communities. They don’t owe non-Indigenous people an explanation if they’d rather not have external interference in their governance and policing. 

The best way for a community-led police force to address the needs of Indigenous communities is to have settler Canadians stay out of its development. 

Of course, implementing Indigenous-led police forces for First Nations communities doesn’t excuse the government from its responsibility to Indigenous people. Many reserves still don’t have clean drinking water seven years after Prime Minister Trudeau promised to address the problem

Obviously, the government could do a lot better when it comes to addressing Indigenous issues. However, just because there are bigger, more urgent problems to solve pertaining to Indigenous communities, doesn’t mean community-led policing isn’t a good idea that could lay the groundwork for overdue police reform. 

Internal policing won’t solve the complex social issues Indigenous peoples face but turning over law enforcement responsibilities to them is an opportunity for genuine reconciliation that could make communities safer. 

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