22/03/2012 3:42 pm
I was speaking with a colleague the other week who is currently serving in a regional police assistance mission, and the issue came up about the right type of capacity required to support institution building within the police. The challenges faced by this colleague in their current mission were not dissimilar (in fact they were almost identical) to those that I witnessed myself while working for the OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro almost a decade ago. So we do not seem to have learned much in terms of lessons on sending the right capacity to support reforms within security and justice institutions over that period.
The key challenge I feel can be summed up in a phrase often used by one of ISSAT’s trainers, which is that “you don’t send a doctor to rebuild a hospital”. The point being made is that while a medical doctor is good at diagnosing medical problems, their knowledge and experience has limitations, they are neither an architect nor a brick layer. While their input should be sought on hospital layout and structure, they do not have the full breadth of skills to lead the rebuilding process.
Moving away from single-source advice
In relation to international support to police reform, while the uniform to uniform exchange is not to be under-estimated, the assumption that a good police officer from Dublin, Accra or Oslo will automatically be a good trainer, mentor or advisor on reform, is to under-estimate the skills that these tasks require. It also fails to recognize that working effectively in a well established system that has evolved over many years, is very different to trying to create a system from scratch and with limited capacity and resources available.
What I am proposing is the recognition that a multiplicity of skills and knowledge is required to reform a justice and security system, and uniformed officers as well as civilian skills are required. The need for multi-disciplinary teams is nothing new; however to date the international community has only had limited success in putting in place a system that brings robust civilian capacities to bear in post-conflict contexts. With an over-dependency on military and police secondments, there is a failure to recognize that security and justice reform is as much a political endeavour as it is a technical exercise.
For a good critique of the capacity gaps and challenges faced when trying to build policing institutions in post-conflict settings, see the CBS broadcast report by the Bureau for International Reporting on the role of the UN and others in supporting the establishment of a new police service for Timor Leste.
Multidisciplinary approach towards police reform
So what type of capacity should the international community send to support security and justice reforms. Let’s start with the diagram below, which many of you may be familiar with, it is used to explain the holistic nature of SSR.
If we were to take out just one component, say the one focusing on police reform, and break that down we might begin to get some ideas. Often the international community focuses on the police as an institution rather than those who provide policing services. Some of these might be non-state actors. And so, the international community might miss not only other actors with policing powers, but also those who manage and provide oversight of the police. This means we should be talking about engaging not only policing institutions and actors, but the Ministry of Interior, the Parliament, the all important Ministry of Finance, as well as external accountability bodies such as Police Ombudsman or policing authorities. This would help transform a policing institution into one which is effective, well managed and held accountable. How often do we send personnel with experience of working in a Ministry, developing a budget or working on parliamentary oversight, as part of police reform programmes?
Not often, is the answer from my experience. Multilateral and regional organizations in particular focus on uniformed officers when it comes to recruiting for policing/police reform programmes. While I think there is an emerging recognition of the need and benefits of including both uniformed and civilian capacities, recruitment policy is lagging far behind.
Focus on institutional integrity and confidence building
To further reinforce the point; let us look directly at the capacity that would be required to support the reform of the police service in particular. The international community often focuses on the individual capacity of officers, so on training and equipment; and rarely on the organizational capacity or integrity of the institution as a whole. Human resources, financial management, strategic planning, internal accountability and disciplinary procedures are all issues that are often overlooked.
Rarely, if ever, will you be able to find all of these skills and knowledge embodied in one person, or in one ministry that supports reform, so an SSR team needs to be a multi-disciplinary team. We should also not under-estimate the soft skills required. Someone who can build trust and confidence will find that their advice is more likely to be taken on board. Someone who reinforces their national counterparts rather than overwhelms them, will be more successful. While this seems obvious, it is unfortunately not always prioritized nor put on an equal platform alongside technical experience or knowledge. The latter can be learned, while the former needs hard work.
Monday 26 March 2012 10:31:36 am
Thank you Mark. What you highlight is also pertinent to other areas of security & justice sector reform efforts. I am glad you mention the soft skills as yes, these are too often either overlooked (assuming the individuals engaged in reform efforts will just have them, which unfortunately is often not the case) or given a very low priority. In the end it is how we interact and engage with those we seek to support that can make or break a successful initiative.
Sunday 25 March 2012 5:03:42 pm
Dear Mark,I totally agree with you, both on the content of your post regarding what is needed for police reform and on the fact that it is amazing how little has been learned over the last two decades. I find it rather disheartening how many mistakes have been made in Afghanistan, where I work, in ten years. Faced with the fast approaching withdrawal of international military presence and corresponding downturn in funding, it seems that we have achieved little progress given the amount of time, money and people invested. Though I am new to this sector, it strikes me that much of what you lay out above should be obvious and common sensical - so why have we failed again and again?