Social approaches to police reform

Police officers at General Kahiye Police Academy in Mogadishu, Somalia, watch a training excercise conducted by the African Union on June 16. The African Union is currently training one hundred Somali Police officers in a program aimed at equipping the Somali Police Force with the necessary skills to effectively arrest suspects, stop vehicles at checkpoints, and cordon off areas. AMISOM Photo / Tobin Jones

A meaningful implementation of COP depends on the availability of appropriate social resources within the police; resources that enable the police to form trust-based relations, networks and mutual agreements with a different type of groups in society. A social approach to police reforms deals with how the police relate to local communities. It often implies moving from a police force (focused on securing the state) to a police service (focused on serving the community). This can include training of police officers and leaders in context-sensitive approaches, citizen involvement, partnership building, joint problem identification and solving, as well as preventive policing.

Taking a social approach means addressing power relations between the police and local communities, as well as the existing security narratives that render the violence experienced by certain groups in society invisible. Our Digital Story from El Salvador demonstrates how dominant national security narratives excessively focus on prosecuting criminal gangs, giving no space for frequently ignored security problems such as gender-based violence (GBV). As a result, femicides are not counted in official murder statistics. Digital story: A Tale of Invisibility.

Adopting a social approach to police reforms also means addressing the ways in which things are done within the police – including the norms, routines, procedures and power relations that shape police operations on a daily basis. It also has implications for who is selected for police training, in terms of their attitudes, values and norms. This includes the ways gender norms and relations influence the situation of policewomen, as well as police officers from other minority groups. You may read more about the situation for women in the police here.

As police models and cultures are conditioned and shaped by history, police reforms should also address the historical favoring of certain groups in society (as a consequence of conflict and/or colonial history), including existing links between the police and a political elite. These power relations are challenging, but not impossible to address. A Digital Story demonstrates a promising practice where the Inspector General (IG) in Kenya challenges a reactive and authoritarian policing approach – a legacy of the colonial era. By investing time in visiting and facilitating internal discussions with local police across the country, the IG was able ensure by-in from large groups of officers for his vision of a more “peopled-centered approach” to policing.

 

In another promising practice from Kenya, a local police leader served as a role model to lead, support and inspire his team to practice a more peopled-centered approach to policing.