Ban Hua Thang community, located in Phiman subdistrict, Mueang district of Satun province, is a flat area of 0.56 square kilometers, surrounded by mangroves. It consists of 100 families, with about 1,000 people, who are mostly Muslims and are engaged mainly in fishing and trade.
Unlike the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat, Satun does not face violent extremism, but this semi-urban community has to deal with other social issues, as well, such as drug trade and abuse, theft, and teenager problems.
In order to deal with the problems effectively, the local police in early 2011 launched a project called “community policing,” the first of its kind in southern Thailand. The project aims to reduce suspicion between officials and local residents and between local people themselves. With the participation of local people, it has been carried out successfully and regarded as a model that can be used to bring about mutual trust and harmonization and help tackle southern violence.
Modeled after an American community policing program, the Satun model started with four plainclothes police officers from the Crime Suppression Division living with villagers at the Ban Hua Thang community in order to learn their problems and needs. Initially they did not identify themselves as police but were there to help ease local problems and offer a helping hand in local development.
After three months, when local people and the group of policemen got to know one another better, the officers made it known that they were law enforcement authorities. The feeling of mistrust by then did not exist and they urged the village head to hold a public forum where local villagers could speak about their problems. The police realized that several local problems came from disunity and that local residents did not trust the police. Information gained from the forum was analyzed and the police came up with ways to solve local problems.
Since then, this group of police officers has continued to win the trust of local villagers by joining almost all activities in the community and working with religious leaders. Today, the drug problem at Ban Hua Thang has declined. The police and local residents have joined hands in forming a group of security volunteers to protect the village. The local public pavilion has been used as the venue to settle disputes, and many problems have been settled without causing any troubles in the community as a whole.
As for young people, the community policing project has provided them with training in martial arts, computer science, knowledge about law, and sports activities. The objective is to encourage them to spend time fruitfully. The project also seeks to develop local facilities, such as roads, pavilions, and electricity for better services.
Police Colonel Thinnakorn Rangmart, a superintendent of the Crime Suppression Division, said that the project had been implemented for three years now and it has proved very satisfactory, based on the concept “Police are people and people are police.” Promoting relations with local people has improved the police image and helped prevent crime, as well.
The police have prepared to expand this project to other southern communities in the deep South, such as those in Saba Yoi district of Songkhla. He believed that southern violence would ease when suspicion between officials and local villagers was reduced. Perpetrators in the deep South have attempted to create mistrust between officials and local residents, making it difficult for the authorities to cope with the unrest.
Ban Hua Thang is a good example of an empowered community, where residents live in harmony and unity. They have also cooperated closely with officials in keeping social order. In this community, policemen play a key role in winning trust from local people who can look to them for help.
The community policing project is an innovative approach that can be adapted as a model to ease the violent situation in the southern border provinces of Thailand.