BAI PING Cit­i­zens on pa­trol prove their value

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA SOUNDBITES -

While we grieve over the atroc­i­ties of the ter­ror at­tack last Satur­day, many may won­der why it oc­curred in Kun­ming. Why, if the at­tack­ers’ minds were truly on Bei­jing, where China’s top leg­is­la­ture would con­vene sev­eral days later, did it oc­cur where it did?

Ter­ror the­ory is sim­ple: Seek­ing no­tice and to in­flu­ence pub­lic opin­ion, ter­ror­ists of­ten iden­tify tar­gets with high pub­lic vis­i­bil­ity, global me­dia ex­po­sure or sym­bolic mean­ing. And Bei­jing fits the bill bet­ter than any other city. So why Kun­ming? One an­swer might be that the Chi­nese cap­i­tal has a for­mi­da­ble met­ro­pol­i­tan po­lice force, em­ploy­ing tens of thou­sands of of­fi­cers and boast­ing the best SWAT teams in the na­tion.

But the Bei­jing po­lice may beg to dif­fer: In a city of more than 20 mil­lion and with many high-value ter­ror tar­gets, its force of 60,000 or so is al­ready stretched thin and over­worked.

That cal­cu­la­tion changes dras­ti­cally, how­ever, when the city’s huge army of pub­lic se­cu­rity vol­un­teers — hun­dreds of thou­sands of them — is added. While a def­i­nite num­ber is not avail­able for the cur­rent leg­isla­tive and po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sory meet­ings, it has been es­ti­mated that more than 700,000 such vol­un­teers are mo­bi­lized each year to en­sure the se­cu­rity of the an­nual two ses­sions in the cap­i­tal.

One im­por­tant mis­sion of the vol­un­teers is to pro­vide safety and se­cu­rity for the rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Around the ho­tels where rep­re­sen­ta­tives stayed in 2010, vol­un­teers wear­ing red arm­bands were posted at 30-me­ter in­ter­vals from 7 am to 10 pm ev­ery day, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese me­dia re­ports.

If these vol­un­teers, mostly re­tirees and tem­po­rary work­ers, are not a strong enough de­ter­rent to ter­ror­ists by them­selves, think about the elab­o­rate in­tel­li­gence net­work they have built to de­tect crimes and en­able swift po­lice ac­tion.

In­for­mants with govern­ment al­lowances are ap­pointed in each neigh­bor­hood, while 15,000 in­spec­tors make the rounds of com­mu­ni­ties of mi­grants ev­ery day to de­tect the ear­li­est signs of se­cu­rity prob­lems. One in ev­ery 25 se­cu­rity vol­un­teers has the re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing.

The plan, called Mass Preven­tion and Mass Man­age­ment, has taken off since the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008, when it proved a pow­er­ful tool for crime preven­tion and con­trol. Dur­ing the Games, po­lice and vol­un­teers kept a close watch on tens of thou­sands of people clas­si­fied as high risk, which sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced crimes com­pared with the same pe­riod in pre­vi­ous years.

The sys­tem is also cost­ef­fec­tive, as the city taps into a re­newed spirit of vol­un­teerism among its cit­i­zens. Or­di­nary vol­un­teers are usu­ally paid only with uni­forms, arm­bands and meals, al­though the city pro­vides re­wards at the end of each im­por­tant se­cu­rity job. Cash prizes of up to 500,000 yuan ($81,720) are given to those who pro­vide valu­able tips to pre­vent or solve crimes.

But as a means of in­ter­dict­ing ter­ror­ism, the much-touted se­cu­rity model faces ob­sta­cles that im­pede its repli­ca­tion in other prov­inces and cities. Is­sues such as the le­gal­ity of vol­un­teers per­form­ing lawen­force­ment tasks, the wel­fare of vol­un­teers in the line of duty and in­ad­e­quate fund­ing for se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions, need to be sorted out.

Mod­ern city res­i­dents may also feel un­com­fort­able with in­tru­sive and om­nipresent se­cu­rity mea­sures. Granny pa­trols in Bei­jing were once stig­ma­tized as busy­bod­ies who liked to put their noses into other people’s busi­ness.

But pub­lic mon­i­tor­ing has gained trac­tion, in light of limited po­lice man­power and tech­nol­ogy, as the best avail­able way to stay on top of ter­ror­ism.

Even with Mass Preven­tion and Mass Man­age­ment in place, the cap­i­tal’s se­cu­rity is not air­tight. In Oc­to­ber, three mem­bers of the Uygur eth­nic group drove a jeep into a crowd of people at Tian’an­men Square, in the heart of the city, killing two and in­jur­ing an­other 40, be­fore killing them­selves by ig­nit­ing gaso­line in the ve­hi­cle.

But the con­tin­u­ous pres­ence of vol­un­teers has proved its value.

The Kun­ming stab­bings might have hap­pened in Bei­jing but for the height­ened vig­i­lance pro­vided by a small army of cit­i­zens who take se­ri­ously the job of watch­ing out for our safety.

Let’s show more re­spect for these vol­un­teers next time we see them on the streets, in shop­ping malls or at our doors. The writer is edi­tor-at-large of China Daily. E-mail: dr.baip­ing@gmail.com

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