I was recently invited to participate in a strategic planning workshop in Ramallah, Palestine. The objective was to assist the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP) to develop a national strategy for police accountability and oversight for Palestine. Over the course of four days a group of mostly mid-level and executive ranking PCP officers discussed best practices in police accountability and oversight. This included exploring definitions of accountability in Arabic as well as reviewing global examples of complaint, internal investigations and discipline systems, inspection and audit mechanisms, and the critical role that these play in improving police effectiveness and community relations.
Accountability and oversight are complex and sensitive issues, which go right to the heart of balances of power and of integrity. Tackling this head on can increase rather than decrease resistance to change. However, framing the conversation in terms of enhancing performance and focusing on specific organizational systems represents a valuable entry point for the international community to engage with a local police agency. Obviously this presumes a certain level of trust and understanding between the parties but also suggests a productive and pragmatic way to drive reforms.
What has become abundantly clear is that in the absence of longer term interactions between international and local actors, the provision of tactical equipment and ad-hoc training and other isolated engagements cannot adequately support practical, incremental and sustainable organizational development. To do this a sufficient level of trust and understanding needs to be established between international and local actors. This will take longer and will seem to entail greater risk, particularly for funders, who are often under pressure to disburse funds in short time frames. And it will be difficult for it must also be conceded that organizational change is difficult in any context, not least in policing.
How can this trust be built? If meaningful organizational reform is the objective and the international community is engaged in any event, an initial focus on internal systems as a way to build momentum for further improvement has certain merits. For one, it not only encourages active local ownership and engagement but in fact depends almost entirely on local actors to manage and carry the change effort forward. A focus on relatively innocuous organizational systems also averts some of the more obvious challenges to existing or entrenched cultures or interest groups that a focus on rank structures, or pay and conditions might raise. And although change to most organizational systems will eventually affect even the most entrenched interests, the initial focus at least will be on rationalization and on making organizational processes more consistent, reliable and predictable.
Another benefit is that work on any one system can help drive change in another. For example, improvements to a human resources system can lead to changes in equipment replacement and training systems. This approach also acknowledges the iterative nature of organizational change, particularly in policing, and is relatively scalable and works from rudimentary, paper-based occurrence sheet systems to sophisticated multi-system IT platforms.
In a very direct sense this approach was strongly reflected in the policing reforms undertaken in Northern Ireland. These had a significant focus on making the local police more effective, representative and accountable, but relied ultimately on monitored improvements to a series of core organizational systems both inside and outside the police. In my experience the organizational systems that lend themselves to this type of reform effort include command and control, communications, planning, evidence handling and management, internal investigation and discipline, inspection and audit, human resources, information technology and equipment management.
This raises a final point: in fact all police organizations can benefit from improvements in these areas. Since all police officers, particularly those at higher ranks, should understand the need for improvements to their systems, this reality can serve as a significant leveler between international and local actors engaged in joint policing reform. Aside from representing a pragmatic, incremental and adaptable approach to policing reform, what this approach may ultimately support is the development of different kinds of organizational thinking and culture, and over time help shift decision making from reactive and arbitrary to planned and predictable.
mardi 26 juin 2012 14:59:14
Thanks Mark, it would be useful to see case studies of the reform effort in Palestine, and particularly to see any commentary of whether there are potential lessons to be drawn for the significant work that will follow the Arab Spring.
mardi 26 juin 2012 13:58:50
Thammy, from the perspectives of police management and improving relations with the community, as these constituted the rough outlines of our work with the PCP, there were no significant differences between Arabic and Western/Anglo-Saxon definitions of accountability. In our immediate context both definitions were seen to rest on the notion that police organizations - and by extension their staffs - had an obligation to provide information to external bodies and to the wider community about actions taken and decisions made, and about any consequences. This obligation had moral and legal dimensions in both definitions and was reflected in a shared emphasis on personal and collective integrity, prudence and evenhandedness.
mercredi 20 juin 2012 12:29:00
So, Mark, I'm interested to know, were there significant differences between Arabic and Western/Anglo-Saxon definitions of accountability?
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