I’ve done a whole lot of reviews in my day, for hotels, restaurants, bars, airlines, travel websites, and even festivals around the world. But this will be the first time that I’ve reviewed…a police force!?
Yup, as today, I’m going to share the inner workings of the Dumaguete Police Force, the constables tasked with keeping my current town of Dumaguete in the Philippines safe and regulated. While that may seem like a strange bedfellow for a travel website, it’s not. Think about it – there are hundreds of millions of travelers touching down and exploring all over the world every year (or something like that). And yet we rarely hear about, talk about, or even think about the local police in these destinations….that is, until we really need them.
It’s an unfortunate truth that tourists sometimes occupy the same universe as pickpockets, scammers, overly aggressive vendors, surly taxi drivers, rental car robbers, blackmailing ladies of the evening, common street thugs, drug dealers, drug peddlers, drug pushers, and even drunken brawlers. Furthermore, there are kidnappers, religious or political zealots, and terrorists stalking opportunities to target unsuspecting travelers.
Have I gone too far? Hardly, as the reason you DON’T hear more about incidents and accidents abroad is because of the local police forces.
Dumaguete is a good example of all of that – or lack thereof. I had the chance to sit down with Jonathan Pineda, the police chief of this small coastal city, which has been called one of the best places abroad to retire (by Forbes Magazine) and an exploding best-kept-secret on the traveling and backpacking scene. Literally, it seems like every week, there are more foreigners visiting or living in “Duma,” as well as Filipinos coming from near or far to work…or maybe make money by illicit means.
So how does the police force keep up?
Chief Pineda shared that it isn’t easy, as they are seriously undermanned and under-budgeted. In fact, they have only 100 full-time police officers, working 12-hour or longer days, and about 20 auxiliary police that were assigned to support the regular force as a triage measure.
Their biggest priorities are twofold: to stem the tide of drugs flowing into the city and surrounding areas, and to stay vigilant to combat terrorism. Both of these are real threats, as drugs often flow into a blossoming area when organized crime or big narco-traffickers see an opening, and completely overwhelm the local authorities. Likewise, Islamic and political terrorists from the southern island of Mindanao are known to target the touristy areas in and around Dumaguete. If either one of those threats wins, whether by a sudden, shocking headline of tourists being kidnapped or a bomb going off, or the slow decay caused by drugs in a poor community, Dumaguete will effectively be lost forever.
So, Chief Pineda has assigned a special task force of 10 elite-level, almost-paramilitary officers, who are on the front lines of both of those threats. For the more mundane daily police work, they’ve helped fill in the gaps by working with a small squad of tourist police, who patrol the popular Oceanside Boulevard area and offer more smiling assistance and organized presence than teeth.
In a stroke of genius, Pineda and the Dumaguete police have also designated certain “Discipline Zones,” which area commonly trodden areas – like along the national road and in the busy downtown – where every malfeasance and civic annoyance will be closely monitored. Drinking in public, vagrancy, panhandling, vendors selling illegally, bad driving and double parking, littering in public, etc. will all be monitored and dealt with by a voluntary force of civic deputies. These individuals – or even groups – will not make arrests but observe, talk to the public, inform the police of violators, and generally act as a deterrent.
On these three levels, the stretched-thin police force is making a huge difference, focusing on their (our) biggest priorities but also promoting a clean, safe, secure, and well-regulated Dumaguete for travelers and locals alike!
Well done, Dumaguete police – and from now on, the less we hear about you, the more we’ll know you’re working effectively!