Reciprocal Partnerships

The UNPOL definition of COP includes “encouraging the public to act as partners with the police…”. This definition is one-directional, as it encourages the public to act as partners with the police, but not the other way around. The lack of cooperation from the side of the police may be an obstacle to meaningful partnerships between the police and local communities.

Instead, the ICT4COP project encourages the development of two-directional partnerships, where various actors – from the police as from civil society at local levels – work together in reciprocal relationships to prevent and manage any incidents of insecurity at local levels.

To act in a reciprocal partnership implies moving beyond the instrumental view of partnership (i.e. as a means of accomplishing something specific, like a police objective) into genuine partnerships. In addition to a reciprocal obligation, genuine partnerships are typically associated with long-term commitment, joint agenda setting (i.e. identification of problems and their solutions), mutual responsibilities and trust. While instrumental partnerships often promote the status quo, genuine partnerships have the potential to be transformative.

The UNPOL definition is not alone in conceptualizing a one-dimensional type of partnership. There is a tendency across sectors and scales toward top-down partnerships – with the leading agency controlling the finances and the terms, including inviting other partners into the partnership. This is so whether it be between international and local organizations or between police and communities. Partnerships currently exist on a highly uneven playing field, where power imbalances between those involved complicate the relationship.

Recognizing power relations is sometimes difficult as they can be exercised in different ways. Acknowledging and identifying power relations between police and communities is nevertheless critical in order to ensure that relations are reciprocal and build trust.

Lukes’ (2005) three faces of power


  1. Decision-making power – refers to power that largely is expressed through political action. This is a public expression of power.
  2. Non-decision-making power – refers to agenda-setting power etc. that contributes to shaping what are the legitimate and non-legitimate solutions to a problem.  
  3. Ideological power – refers to power that shapes our thoughts and ideas about what is desirable and appropriate (sometimes even against one’s own self-interest). This type of power the subjective – or “real” – interests of those excluded from the political process/the decision-making.

In addition, local actors may face several barriers to engaging in partnerships. Such barriers may include those related to time, resources and language, and be both formal (e.g. formulated as requirements for participation) or informal (simply limiting effective participation). Facilitating partnerships that allow for free and equal exchange of ideas and agendas requires engagement with informal networks, social institutions and initiatives at local level – initiatives that play a crucial role in local peoples’ daily life. Police interested in forming reciprocal partnerships would need to demonstrate willingness and ability to relate to structures, norms, values and realities “unfamiliar” to outsiders – including the polic