The Challenge of Police Reform in Developing Nations

A new volume from CRC press, Police Corruption and Police Reforms in Developing Societies, provides an informative if frustrating look at efforts to combat corruption in the police services of developing countries.  Informative for two reasons: one, because editor Kempe Ronald Hope marshals such powerful evidence in his introduction for the primacy of tackling corruption in the police.  Two, because the authors he has assembled offer such authoritative, in-depth studies of how police corruption has been attacked in eight developing states spread across Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, and Latin America and the Caribbean plus Hong Kong.  Policymakers in developing states no longer have any excuse for not prioritizing police anticorruption reforms.  Nor can they plead ignorance of the ingredients required.

But a list of ingredients does not itself make a stew.  That takes a recipe for how to combine the ingredients: in what proportions and when.  And that is one reason why the volume is so frustrating. It lacks a recipe for police reform.

Written by academics, practitioners or consultants often closely involved in the different countries’ reforms, the chapter authors explain how the eight developing states plus Hong Kong have deployed a mix of organizational reforms, new training programs, the introduction of ethics codes and civilian oversight bodies, reforms to recruitment and promotion, and increases in pay in search of a professional, non-corrupt police service that can maintain order while upholding democratic ideals.  The result is a thorough catalogue of the many (by one count more than 200) ways to reform a police service.  But what neither the authors do in their case studies nor Professor Hope does in his introductury and summary chapters is offer readers any sense of priorities.

Where should reform begin?  With the creation of a civilian oversight board?  Ethics training for new recruits?  Pay and benefits hikes?  What about sequencing?  Should pay be increased before or after rigorous training on ethics?  Or simultaneously?

Granted, none of these questions have straightforward, easy answers, and as Professor Hope emphasizes in his introduction, like most (all?) institutional reforms, they are highly dependent on country context.  So while from the Kenya chapter it seems that organizational reform was a critical first step, to unify two separate forces at virtual war with each other, in the Solomon Islands it seems that, because the senior ranks of the police were filled with those who had bought their position, vetting force commanders was an essential prerequisite for further reform.  I say “seems” in both cases because the authors of the Kenyan and Solomon Islands chapters, like those of the other chapters, offer few judgments about reform priorities and sequencing.

On the one hand, this is understandable.  Identifying the right priorities and specifying the correct sequencing is more art than science, particularly in the messy world of police reform where so many factors are at play.  So there is no guarantee the chapter authors would have gotten it “right.” But in the policy “sciences,” where resort to experimental design and deductive method are often not possible, many times the best we can do is to offer our best judgments about what works and why, backed with the best arguments we can make, and see if they can withstand scrutiny.  That of course is how learning advances.

If the failure to provide even tentative conjectures about priorities and sequencing is one reason why the volume is ultimately so frustrating, a second is the absence of a summary of what comes across so clearly in the eight chapters on police reform in developing nations –

*Argentina: “The last significant police reform [began in 2010 but] Argentina and its police forces continue to sink in surveys and assessments of corruption.”

*Cameroon: “[Corruption] is a recurring and tenacious element in policing. . . .  It cannot be looked at as isolated incidents because it is ingrained and systemic.”

*Ghana: “[I]nternal and external accountability reforms have not minimized corruption in the [Ghana Police Service]. . . . [There is] widespread public discontent with the operations of the GPS . . . sometimes resulting in mob attacks on police officers and their facilities.”

*India: “[P]olice corruption exists extensively.  In India, the lack of local accountability and the illiberal nature of the democratic policy have created circumstances where police officers function with few checks and scrutiny.”

*Kenya: “Despite the new policing institutional architecture aimed at transforming the police service and the various reform initiatives undertaken through that new architecture, police corruption and other forms of misconduct still arise in the daily routines of the Kenyan Police. . . .”

*Solomon Islands: “[The police force] is still in its infancy in undertaking complex corruption investigations . . . a number of areas of reform need to be considered to ensure that corruption is combated and police professionalism is maintained. . . .”

*South Africa: “[Despite post-apartheid reforms] there is still mounting evidence of grand-scale corruption in the police.”

*Trinidad and Tobago: “[W]hile numerous police reform efforts have been attempted in the postcolonial period, the police are still perceived to be violent, corrupt, incompetent, and resistant to change.”

In short, the path to police reform in developing states is a long and difficult one.  But as this volume makes abundantly clear again and again, it is a path that all nations must trod.

2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Police Reform in Developing Nations

  1. Pingback: The Challenge of Police Reform in Developing Nations | Anti Corruption Digest

  2. Pingback: Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, November 23, 2015 | Global Times

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