This essay is part of the Middle East-Asia Project (MAP) series on “'Civilianizing' the State in the Middle East and Asia Pacific Regions.” The series explores the past and ongoing processes of Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Asia-Pacific countries and examines the steps already taken and still needed in the MENA region. See More …


 

The following text is an edited transcript of a conversation between Khatia Dekanoidze and Omar Al Rafie hosted by Alex Walsh on the margins of the Conference on the Future of Arab Policing in Amman, Jordan in March 2019. The participants discuss the transformation of the police during Georgia’s political transition, the lessons that could be drawn from this experience that might be applicable to Jordan, and the role of Community Policing as a tool to engage the community and bring about positive change.  

Omar Al Rafie | Khatia Dekanoidze | Alex Walsh Omar Al Rafie | Khatia Dekanoidze | Alex Walsh 

Khatia Dekanoidze served as Georgia’s Police Minister between 2005 and 2012, playing a leading role in the country’s a significant transition after the Rose Revolution of 2003. She went onto serve as Ukraine’s Chief of Police between 2015-2017 during a period of open conflict in the country. Khatia currently supports INL Moldova to transform law enforcement institutions and practices in the country.

Omar Al Rafie served Jordan’s Public Service Directorate for thirty years, rising to Brigadier and completing a secondment to the Ministry of Planning. Since 2013, he has been working with international organizations in policing development, including training the Community Police in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. Omar was also part of the international effort that supported the development of the police in opposition held areas in Syria. He is starting research at Bath University on policing studies.

Alex Walsh is an independent researcher and consultant focusing on policing in the Middle East and North Africa, and has worked in security sector reform projects in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. His current research for the EUISS focuses on the future of policing in the Arab World.

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Alex

Good afternoon and welcome to Amman and to the margins of the Conference on the Future of Arab Policing, hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the European Union Institute for Security Studies. Khatia, there was a huge change in policing practices in Georgia in the 2000s, can you give us a rough background and also can you tell us about your role in that process?

Khatia

Thank you very much.

It was a momentous period. In 2003, Georgian law enforcement started to move away from corruption. The country had been called a failed state because of corruption, organized crime, the shadow economy, and the lack of rule of law or a criminal justice system. In 2003 when the young generation of reformers came to power, we decided to transform the country and the police, the fight against organized crime, and also the economy. For us, the mission was to save our country. This was the way out of the Soviet past. For us it was a matter of honor.

We approached this from several directions. Very important was the reform of the criminal justice system and police especially. The police followed a Soviet traditional model, was known as the ‘militia’, and was very corrupted. We worked on human resources. We fired several thousand police officers, and hired replacements. This required a new and transparent hiring system. Secondly, we worked on a new training system and a new police academy. We merged investigators and so-called “operational officers” and created a new, more Western-style detective system, which was less bureaucratic and created a more universal police officer to investigate criminal cases.

Thirdly, and not least, the management was changed. Once you start transforming, it is important to know that you have to do it from the top. If you do it from the bottom up, there is a possibility that you never reach the top. We changed the high management, middle level management, and quite young people came to power. I have to say that, talking about ranking systems, for those young people, ranks were not as important. The ranking system went back to the Soviet traditional model — for instance, the Soviet systems had a lot of generals, but no good officers or privates. We moved the ranking system away from the military ranks, away from the militarization of the police. We oriented on service, because the modern police standard means providing police services.

The transformation is a long story, but these measures brought us to an 86% trust rating. Still, the Georgian police come third after the church and the army. It was a long road to create the national institute. We created a very good rapid reaction service, in terms of an emergency response through 112, like 911, which was national, very mobile, very fast and I have to say that police reaction is effective. We also tried to be more proactive than reactive, to work on the prevention of crime.

Then we had been fighting organized crime because organized crime was everywhere in Georgia – in the economy, in business, in racketeering. We adopted the RICO Act in Georgia, like in the United States. Actually, it was an amendment to the Criminal Procedure code and everyone connected to organized crime and mafia gangs were prosecuted according to the Criminal Procedure Code.

In 2005 I started as Chief of Staff. My specialization at university is international relations and international law, and I worked for a lot of international projects after graduation. I never believed that I would go to work at the police, but something changed. My friends and I went to the public sector because of the changes in my country, and then later I became director of the Police Academy and director of the National Examination Centre at the Ministry of Education. I have to say that I don’t want to exaggerate my role, because it was teamwork, there was political will and it was a government of young reformers.

Alex

During the conference, it became clear that the transition in Georgia is inspirational for some of the speakers from different parts of the Arab World. Omar, what is it about the Georgian transition that is interesting for those involved in police transformation in the Middle East?

Omar

It is a different case, but definitely there are many experiences that we can build on. The Arab Spring, that we call the period from 2011, exposed the weakness of the police in the Arab World generally: the weakness in terms of their efficiency, their brutality and in some cases, many would argue that the police triggered the revolutions with their behavior and their lack of trust. It was evident to everyone, even to regimes, that the police need to be reformed.

There were efforts before the Arab Spring, and most of them, not all of them, were led by international support. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the donors usually have their own interests in the reform — for example the Americans wanted to make sure they are tackling counter-terrorism aspect of policing, the Europeans are more concerned with migration and what comes with it. And sometimes the actual challenges facing the countries are not fully addressed.

I would like to use the Jordanian example to build on the possible benefits that we can take from the Georgian experience. The Jordanian police was part of the Army, until 1956. In 1956, it was split and then it came back in again and in 1958 it was officially split from the Army. In this way it came from the Army culture, the Army literature, training, and the Army ranking system. So, the Jordanian police from 1956, 1958, it was following the military ranks — as with many other countries in the region. You can see this in Egypt, Iraq, Syria — but it is not like what you would see in many European countries. So that culture of Army, Army ranking, Army system remained with the police.

When you mentioned here, Khatia, that you managed to bring new recruits and from civilian backgrounds and introduce them to the police with the new ideas. We have a system that has been working since 1956, with benefits systems, with ranking systems that splits the police into two classes: the officers’ class and soldiers’ class, where the non-commissioned officers are, who are actually the backbone of the police in Jordan. The officers’ class are the commanders and the decision makers. This affects the reform efforts if we want to follow the Georgian model.

Alex

Omar you provided a lot of interesting background there, and we cannot go into all of it, but I want to ask you about modernization waves in the Jordanian police prior to the 2000s.

Omar

There were efforts in 1986-1987 to introduce a comprehensive policing modernization program, which if you look at it right now is similar to what is called today “Community Policing.” Stations were reformed, university graduates were introduced, the police patrol in the street were trained university graduates with a driver, there was a community council or police council in each police station, where they met with the community to discuss. Unfortunately, after the commander, who brought about this idea and had, left the police, there was a lack of continuity and we slowly went back to the traditional system.

In addition, you will find that in many cases, the Chief of Police comes from the Army, and they come with the military approach to policing. And to tell the police that you are a service and a civilian service is a difficult idea to introduce because of the culture since 1956 and the continuing introduction of military officers. So, in this way, we have a different culture from Georgia.

Alex

Omar you have mentioned Community Policing as an alternative to military style policing. It has become a widely toted solution to a lot of security problems across the world. What do you guys think about this — is Community Policing is the answer? I mean by this the idea that policing must be a negotiated policy between the people and the police. Does that work everywhere, does it work in Jordan? Does it work in Georgia?

Khatia

It’s not a new concept, it is the ordinary universal police officer’s job to talk to the community, and the community is the heart of the everyday routine and life of the officer. When the officer goes to talk to the community and knows their problems, we are actually preventing the crime. It is the everyday police work. Why it was new in Georgia and Ukraine was because of the military past, despite the fact that the Soviets also had a long of songs and poems about militia officers who served the community. In the Ukraine where we adopted this new concept and when patrol officers started talking to the kids at school and talking to the community and the security councils in the small regions and cities, the people started to understand that police officers are just a part of the community. They are not from Mars or Venus; we are part of the community, so we stand at the heart of community.

Alex

I completely agree that talking to the community is an essential part of Community Policing. However, I am not sure that has been the reality in some parts of the Middle East, where there has been a large gap between the Police and the Community.

Omar

Well, after 2011 there has been a number of Community Policing projects in the Arab World. In Tunisia, which many would argue was a successful introduction to Community Policing, and other countries. But most importantly, it is a democratic approach to policing, it is actually reliant on three main pillars: decentralization, engagement with the community and problem solving. It is a well-recognized approach where your closeness to the community, your work with the community can actually prevent, can actually make you proactive in dealing with situation and aware of the situation before it escalates.

In Jordan, there has been recent attempts to reintroduce Community Policing in the system. Of course, in Jordan, thanks to many donor countries, there are programs that are implemented in refugee camps, Syrian refugee camps, and gradually spread around the areas of the refugee camps, where Community Police was introduced.

Alex

Can you give us some examples?

Omar

There is a program that was started in 2013 and was led by the British government. Actually, they implemented Community Policing in the refugee camp of Zaatari and a very good unit was established. A model police station was established, the coordination worked and the techniques, there were excellent training and mentoring activities, and later on it moved to Jordanian communities, in neighboring governorates. You need to bring the culture and it definitely needs the support of the international experience. You need the knowledge; we don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. There is acquired knowledge and experience by the international community, very useful and helpful for Jordan.

Alex

Today Khatia, you made what proved to be quite a controversial comment about how police themselves can bring change into a community, and I think you said that in the context of traditions and was it whether the police should be at all empowering women — Omar can I put you on the spot and ask you — is it the place of the police to drive forward cultural and social change?

Omar

I believe Community Policing is a very effective tool to engage the community and bring change to the community. One very important technique or element of Community Policing is to have a board, a committee, a council. That council can vary from being just a consultative type of council that sits with the representatives from the community that work with the police to a very advanced model – what you see in the UK and other parts of Europe — where actually the police board is powerful and sets the budget of the police. So it can be a very powerful tool, so right now by having the authority sitting and working with the community, a group of people who are selected — and there are so many ways of selecting people  tribal, ethnic — and they are sitting and discussing and in a way the police is accountable to the people of the community. It is actually bringing a big change where the authority, the government, what people see as the ultimate authority is actually accountable to the people. I think that is a huge change in people’s mentality and attitude towards government, and maybe in the bigger picture, to democracy.

Alex

Often in these police projects, you have these international organizations and again to play the devil’s advocate — in the conference today there has been a lot of talk of the importing of foreign ideals, which don’t fit. What do you think of the advantages of having foreign, international interventions in policing in Georgia and Jordan?

Khatia

It is absolutely important to have international donors and strategic partners on board on what we are doing, especially when we are talking about transformation of law enforcement structures.

First of all, let’s be open and frank, it’s technical assistance, which is quite important, especially for the developing countries and the countries with low GDPs, when we barely can offer good quality training to our police officers. How technical assistance works — they can never pay direct salaries to police officers or government, so it’s training with professionals from the West, it’s good experiences and it’s sharing experiences and it’s giving advice, strategic advice, so I think that it is important.

I have to say that in Georgia and Ukraine we had a huge, immense and very important cooperation and we adopted a lot. I am not saying “copy paste,” but rather that we adopted a lot of good experience models from our donors such as Canadians, Americans, Brits, Polish police, etc. But the one and the probably the main point for the decision makers, it’s very important to have the mutual agreement with the international donors. So, I mean mutual agreement is that both parties must understand where they are going and what is the target and what kind of results they can achieve.

Omar

Absolutely the international support is vital. I am talking about Jordan, and I can talk long about the economic difficulties of Jordan, so certain support that comes to Jordan is vital.

I will give you two examples — for example the donor support that came to establish the command and control centre in Jordan, introducing the 911 service, which was a huge help by the international community. The forensic laboratory, it is the best in the Middle East, in the region, and functioning beautifully. This is to support the core function of police, but when it comes to Community Policing, you are talking more about software, you are talking more about changing culture. Definitely the type of support will be distracted by that objective, but not limited to the software. But with the support of the internationals, it is vital that they bring us their experience, and as I just said before, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Alex

Both of you have worked in areas affected deeply by conflict — is it possible to do police transformation when there is an open conflict in the country?

Khatia

We did it in Georgia and the Ukraine. In Georgia, we had 25% of territory are occupied by Russia and we still have our problems and security threats coming from Russia to our sovereignty and territorial integrity, because it’s our northern neighbour and they never respect our territorial integrity.

In Ukraine it is the same, I mean they occupied part of us, and they supported separatist regimes, but despite that, in Georgia and Ukraine, we started transformation processes, right, and successfully. So, we have to understand that only if we are very strong internally and fight corruption and rule of law and you know fair criminal justice system, only with that can we fight and defeat our external enemies.

Omar

Well I can talk about a different experience. Over the last few years we worked on an international project inside Syria, working with the Free Syrian Police. And actually, it was a real conflict zone and to be honest with you, there are elements that make it easier to work in conflict zones if you are looking at it from the local level. In conflict zones, people need to work together to survive and we found that in many areas inside Syria where the local communities and the local councils and the different entities, NGOs, international organizations that worked together to have a peaceful community. Yes, there is conflict and there are armed forces here and there, but there are families, there are people living and there are kids that want to go to school and buy things in the shops and so on. We found that it is actually easier to have Community Policing in these areas — at the local level I am talking about — in areas that are in conflict because they are used to solve their problems, they are used to sit together and work together to distribute the food, distribute the electricity, the gas and all these needs. And at the same time, to sit together and agree how we want to police our community.

So, when the police came and it was supported by international community, it actually introduced that concept of a council, a local council, police council or consultative council. And the police were accountable to it. In many cases, in some cases, when the police commander in that community was not abiding to human rights and all of that, they all got together and said ‘we need to change him’. This is something you don’t see even in normal countries in the region, so there are a lot of success elements.

But, of course, it is challenging, it is not as all good as I mentioned because there are other challenges that are posed by the armed factions, by the bombardment, by the invasion. There are so many elements, but from the point of the ability to introduce community policing there, I think there are so many good and positive elements and possibilities to have a good model of community policing actually.

Alex

The history of the attempt to create Community Police inside Syria during the conflict is a fascinating. And on that point, how can we protect those who are working to improve the police?

Khatia

You know, police is a profession that puts you and your families at risk, but you can’t do anything with that because that’s the choice of the police officers, of us, of people like the wonderful women and men who really want to serve the country as police officers or the army officers, and defend communities. We have to defend them with laws, with support of the communities, with support of the families, with support of the legislation base, with support of good infrastructure for the police officers, with good services, incentives, motivations, pensions etc. etc., a full package of this kind of incentive that can work in favor of the good work of the police.

Omar

I agree with you. The people that will be responsible of making a change, are always a risk of being attacked, even in their internal systems. So, it is important to have that political and top management support and commitment to any change. And as Khatia said, I would re-emphasize that: the community. You need to campaign with change, you can’t only have the support of the government, you need the support of the people and the people in many cases stop different kind of attacks.

Alex

We are going to wrap this up here in Amman today. I think we can see the importance of understanding the context, of doing proper assessment and also the importance of being bold, of carrying out pretty radical policies, like were done in Georgia. And also, use all the tools at your disposal, especially engagement with the community

I would like to say thank you very much to Khatia.

Khatia

Thank you very much.

Alex

And to Omar.

Omar

My pleasure.