The actions of the police both reflect and affect societal changes and the legitimacy that society vests in state authority. What principles and practices of good policing have emerged through processes of reform, trans-national exchanges and the creation of international regimes? This introductory chapter by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) summarises some of the lessons learned on police reform and examines what has been achieved in police reform in transitional societies.
The idea that policing matters to democracy has slowly but firmly taken hold among politicians, scholars, policy-makers and the police themselves. Providing security is one of the basic demands that society makes of the state. This includes the demand by citizens and communities that their lives are protected by the social control apparatuses of the state. The police occupy a crucial political role in any society by virtue of the symbolic value of their work. This has an impact on the political and social discourse. The police are part of the system of governance. They matter in processes of state creation, the reproduction of peaceful social relations, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the creation of social identities and bonds that underpin political life.
Conversely, ineffective, arbitrary or repressive social control undermines the legitimacy of existing state-society relations, complicates efforts to promote development, and severely limits the (re)building of democratic forms of governance and order. In short, the police matter beyond their merely functional work.
Reforms take time and patience. Nothing will work out quite as planned and expected. Adjustments have to be made in the course of reforms.
- There will be resistance to reforms. This has to be undermined in such a way that those resisting will be seen by others as unreasonable and illegitimate in their objections and as protecting their own interests rather than looking out for the common good of society and the state.
- Even enthusiastically received reforms will suffer a decline in energies and active support as time goes on. Reforms should be supported by occasional campaigns to stir up enthusiasm.
- The pace of reforms must fit local conditions so as not to 'overwhelm' either the police or the public.
- Police organisations seek to shape reforms towards their interests and are much more likely to adopt reforms that do not challenge the existing internal distribution of power and authority within the organisation.
- Reforms must be built into managerial practice in the long term. A system should be developed to teach new leaders as they rise through the ranks.
The goals of democratic police reform (or creation of a democratic policing system) are:
- sustained legitimacy;
- skilled professionalism; and
- effective accountability.