Community Oriented Policing in a Counter Insurgency Environment

Community Oriented Policing Afghanistan SOTF South Chris Martin

Community oriented policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime. Community oriented policing is a working strategy for the urban centers of the United States; and it is also applicable to the counterinsurgency and criminal environment found in the communities of Afghanistan. [1]

From 2010-2012 I was a Law Enforcement Advisor assigned to Special Operations Task Force South (SOTF-S) in Afghanistan with 3rd and 7th Special Forces Groups and embedded with the SOTF’s Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha. My role was to mentor, train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Police (ANP), National Directorate of Security (NDS), and the Afghan Local Police (ALP). We were conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID) / Security Force Assistance (SFA) and Focus District Development. The ANP was the primary organization that I trained. They were trained on community oriented policing, human intelligence (HUMINT), firearms, close quarter battle (CQB), human rights, and many other law enforcement functions. I also had the responsibility of mentoring the District Chief of Police (DCoP) on many aspects of policing.

Chris Martin SOTF-South Afghanistan

From 2000-2010, I was an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington D.C. In those years, I worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigations Safe Streets Task Force, dismantling organized narcotics gangs using Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO). I also worked in Community Oriented Policing and, of course, many other aspects of policing.

What’s the correlation between Special Forces (SF) and law enforcement? A common denominator is that with Special Forces and Law Enforcement people come first. SF knows without community support all fails. It’s all community based, in FID or Unconventional Warfare (UW) everything starts with the community.

The police are the governmental organization designed for internal security and the protection of the population from the criminal element. They deal closely with the community because they deal with the population on a daily basis. Policing is not just about arresting everyone, but also establishing trust and rapport with the community. Once the community supports you, the community will help you on many of your criminal problems – gangs, drugs, or anything that is detrimental to the community or village.

I was able to see the parallels between domestic policing in the U.S. and policing in Afghanistan. The community problems and criminal problems were the same. For instance, we would chase a bad guy into a D.C. housing project and nobody would tell us where he went. Although, everyone knew. The same circumstance applied in Afghanistan; if a bad guy was in a village nobody would say anything for fear of retaliation from the criminal element.

Community oriented policing is the way to build rapport and trust within the community. Let me provide an example of how this works. On my first rotation in Afghanistan in 2010, I was in Regional Command South in Kandahar Province, not too far from the Pakistan border. I would tell the SF Team Sergeant that police need to be in the villages talking with the villagers. He would tell me the villagers already knew the police. That wasn’t the issue, knowing and trusting someone are two different things. You may know me but don’t like or trust me. Or, because I have built a great interpersonal relationship with you (and other people in the community), you will approach me with information about crime in the area and bad guys.

On my second rotation in Afghanistan, I made sure the ANP and ALP understood how community oriented policing worked. I used to accompany the ANP to villages in our area four days a week. We would always take opportunities to walk through the villages. Many times, the ANP wanted to take their vehicles but I encouraged the walking routine. I wanted the ANP to understand how important it was to have that face to face interaction with the citizens of the community. If we came in contact with a bad guy on foot, it was easier for the ANP to point him out because we were not in a vehicle just driving by that person. Also, it gives a community a chance to see their police interact with the community.

While on patrol in the bazaar or market area I encouraged patrolling on foot. One time I observed a suspicious person looking at us. I informed the ANP Sergeant in charge that there was a guy looking directly at us. Because we were in the bazaar area, and the store owners knew us from face to face interaction, one of the store owners gave us certain eye movements indicating something was not right with this individual. In addition, there were behavioral clues that indicated something was amiss. I had the ANP approach the man and the man started to walk away from us. The ANP stopped him, found out he was not a local, and took him back to ANP headquarters to be questioned. The individual was from North Africa, but dressed in traditional Afghan clothing. He was believed to be a foreign fighter. It was because of the community involvement – not outright, but in subtle way – that a suspected foreign fighter was taken off of the street. This is how community oriented policing works.

Now let me switch to Washington D.C. When I worked community oriented policing in the city everyone on my beat knew who I was and I knew who they were. Riding inside of your scout car waving to people is not very people friendly. You must be on foot, engaging the community, and conducting face to face interactions with the public. Let them know who you are, give them your business card, and tell them when you have days off. It got to the point where the citizens on my beat would never call 911, they would always call me instead. When they call you directly, it’s an indication they are comfortable with you and you have built that desired rapport. For example, there was a robbery on my beat and the first officers on the scene started to conduct the investigation. However, once I arrived on the scene, the manager of the robbery location clearly stated she wanted Officer Martin to handle the situation because she knew me. This response was due to my daily face to face interaction with the community.

There was a lady on my D.C. beat that observed some suspicious activity around her area of the street. One night she called me telling me what she observed. I wrote a suspicious activity report. It was forwarded to the appropriate division. An investigation was conducted and a prostitution ring was busted – it was also a human trafficking ring that was dismantled. This is an example of having good interpersonal relationships with the community and having the rapport built with the community.

I have been on numerous homicide scenes, where the shooter returns to see how much damage they have caused. There are always witnesses to the crimes; and many times they will indicate who the bad guy is through non-verbal means; sometimes using subtle eye movements. (Similar to the story I provided above with the suspected foreign fighter).

Many criminal elements in Afghanistan can be stopped at the village level using community oriented policing. If crime or insurgent activity is stopped at the village level then it is possible to preclude the need for military involvement.  Always be mindful, the village or community is the center of gravity (COG) in a counterinsurgency fight.

With community oriented policing, the people know who is supposed to be in the community and who is not from the community. They know what is supposed to be there and what’s not supposed to be there. They are the eyes and ears of the community and can tell the police what the bad guys are doing and where they are located. The people in a community or village can prevent an attack at their level.

Police presence is so important because it is a deterrent to criminal activity. The criminals go to areas where there is no security. Their criminal activity will flourish in areas with no active policing. But, when you have a strong police presence, and community oriented policing is implemented, the bad guys will be denied support. Therefore, they will cease to exist. The opposite holds true, if the police don’t have the support of the community, the bad guys will continue their criminal enterprise.

Violence, fear, and intimidation are how organized gangs operate. They use threats to kill family members who talk to the police, conduct home invasions, and torture the person or persons that have spoken to the police. This gets the message out to the others in the village or community to keep their mouths shut or “ stop snitching” – or there will be consequences. Street rules are in effect when dealing with these criminals. As I stated earlier, there are similarities whether in D.C. or Afghanistan. I’ve seen it in D.C and I’ve seen it in Afghanistan. Therefore, the tactics on dismantling these organized gangs are not that different.

The Afghan Local police is a grassroots community based law enforcement entity; which is important when considering that a lot of criminal activity has its genesis in the village. The Afghan National Police, Afghan Local Police, and the National Directorate of Security should be sharing intelligence at the community level. The sharing of information is important whether it is in D.C. or Afghanistan. The police need to be focused on human nature and human behavior; this will never change.  If the United States military is to be successful at COIN it should start placing experienced police advisors with SOF detachments and advisor teams (when advising police units). Federal law enforcement agents do not have the local community policing experience that police officers have acquired. Experienced police officers that have truly done COP can apply it to the environment the SOF detachments and advisor teams work in.

Organized gangs are into drugs, human trafficking, selling stolen cars, and other criminal activities to make money for the criminal organization. Insurgent groups will also deal in illegal activities. There are a lot of similarities between the organized gangs of urban American and insurgent and criminal organizations in Afghan communities. Employing community oriented policing as a strategy combined with a strong law enforcement presence can assist the community in preventing the rise of a criminal enterprise, insurgent group, or terrorist organization in either environment.


[1] Definition of Community Policing: Community Policing Defined, Department of Justice, [2014] – posted on Homeland Security Digital Library.

Featured Photo: The top photo shows the author training members of the Afghan National Police in suspect search techniques. (photo provided by author, Kandahar, March 2011).

About the Author: Alan C. Martin has 25 years of experience in domestic and international law enforcement with the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. and while serving overseas. He was assigned to Special Operations Task Force – South (SOTF-S) in Afghanistan and embedded with Special Forces “A” detachments as a Law Enforcement Advisor (2010-2012). He mentored, trained, and advised the Afghan National Police, National Directorate of Security, and the Afghan Local Police. He was also a Law Enforcement Professional assigned to advise an Investigative Surveillance Unit (ISU) while serving with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) SOF (2012-2013). Learn more about Alan C. Martin on LinkedIn.

About SOF News 1143 Articles
SOF News provides news, analysis, commentary, and information about special operations forces (SOF) from around the world.