The government and its ally MHP say the neighbourhood guards meet a need for an auxiliary force to assist police and that the new powers will facilitate police operations.
Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved a government-proposed bill that will grant neighbourhood watchmen powers that are almost on par with the country’s police force.
The bill passed overnight with backing from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development (AK) Party and its political ally the Nationalist Movement Party or MHP, despite opposition parties’ concerns that the legislation will empower an underqualified force.
The watchmen, known as 'bekci', traditionally guarded neighbourhoods and parks and had limited permissions to use force.
The force was abolished and folded into the police in 2008, but it was revived in 2017.
The bill allows the more than 21,000 neighbourhood guards, which now also include women, to use firearms, stop vehicles, carry out ID checks and conduct body searches.
They cannot arrest or interrogate suspects and will operate at night.
The government and MHP insist the neighbourhood guards meet a need for an auxiliary force to assist police and that the new powers will facilitate police operations.
According to government data, the guards prevented 4, 222 thefts, arrested 69,665 suspects and recovered thousands of weapons between September 1, 2018 and February 9, 2020.
They also recovered 4, 817 people who had gone missing and handed judgements against 129,658 people in the same period.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and two other opposition parties, voted against the proposal, calling it a "morality police".