Creating Police and Law Enforcement Systems



Executive Summary

  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated that the realities of the international environment and the U.S. national security strategy demand that the government improve its ability to build partner capacity. This paper treats one discreet, but not inconsequential, aspect of building partner capacity—that is, creating police and law enforcement systems.
  • The job of creating police and law enforcement systems in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been difficult under ideal conditions, but our false beliefs, our mistaken assumptions, overly ambitious expectations, and our bureaucratic procedures made the job more difficult still.
  • Creating police is not a numbers game.  Numbers are important, but they do not determine effectiveness.  At least two other separate but related law enforcement factors are important:  the confinement system and the judicial, or adjudication, system; and the local-to-national level institutions and processes designed to support and to continually improve the police. These include planning, training, education, leader selection and development, administration, logistics and acquisition, facility construction and maintenance, resource management, and internal affairs.
  • In Iraq and Afghanistan, the “police task” requires transforming each nation’s understanding of police and law enforcement.  Adding to the complexity is that the effort often occurs during the violence of an active insurgency.
  • Dealing with a national-level threat like an insurgency requires a national army and some form of a national-level, paramilitary police.  Military or paramilitary police forces can impose security; local police enforce it locally once it exists.  The difference is subtle, but important.  Local police are not trained, armed, equipped, or organized to defeat insurgent attacks.  Secure conditions must exist before local police can do their job.
  • Once military and paramilitary police forces impose security and keep it in place long enough to sufficiently eliminate the conditions of police intimidation, the process of transforming the local police can begin.
  • These transformational activities will include changes in leadership, scrubbing police rolls to eliminate “ghost” police, arresting those police who are guilty of crimes, vetting the remaining police to ensure they meet minimum quality standards, recruiting new police, entering biometric data into a national data base, conducting initial training, putting in place a means for iterative improvement and continual professionalization, embedding advisors, and assigning a partner unit.
  • Creating national police and transforming local police, however, also means creating local-to-national institutions and support systems: planning, training, education, leader selection and development, administrative, logistics and acquisition, facility construction and maintenance, resource management, and internal affairs.   Police are only part of a nation’s law enforcement structure; they must fit into the confinement and judicial systems.
  • Establishing a sufficiently legitimate adjudication system usually requires a phased approach, and there is often a long time between phases. A mature judicial system takes time to develop.  While it is developing, some interim process of adjudicating local disputes is necessary.  The interim process will likely not meet the high standards common in most developed countries, but it must simply be, “good enough for now, given the circumstances.” The same will be true of both the fielded police and the confinement facilities used. 

Creating police and law enforcement systems requires:

• Coherency, unity, and organization: Increasing the probability of success requires three essential ingredients:  a coherent understanding of the task and the circumstances; an equally coherent plan derived from this understanding; and an organization that can achieve sufficient unity of action—from the local through the national levels—in execution of the plan and adapting to the circumstances as they change. 

• An enterprise approach: Creating police is not just about training and equipping some number of people, placing them on the street, and declaring victory when a predetermined number is attained.  Creating police is actually about fielding police under the right conditions while creating a local-to-national security and law enforcement scheme that reflects the history and culture of a nation and adheres to that nation’s idea of what is just.  Success in undertakings of this magnitude, therefore, requires an ability to plan, prepare, execute, and assess actions across an enterprise.

• Sequentiality: Not all that the enterprise approach requires can be done at the same time, nor does it have to.  Processes and programs can mature only over time.  Two basic principles are helpful.  First, reinforce or establish security.  Second, field a sufficient police force that expands security and legitimacy of the government, and then improve that force over time.

• Simultaneity: Police and law enforcement systems are necessary but not sufficient.  Rule of law requires both courts and prisons.  Efforts to establish an adjudication system and a confinement system must take place simultaneously with the police and law enforcement systems, but the results will be produced along significantly different time horizons. Some kind of satisfactory interim solution must be identified and promulgated, and it must be a solution that is appropriate for the particular nation’s history, culture, and experience. The interim solution must also come with a development plan that incrementally moves the adjudication and court system to ever more mature levels.

• Partnerships and feedback: A single organization should be given the responsibility for developing police and law enforcement systems.  Yet, no single organization, headquarters, or agency, however, can do all that is necessary with respect to creating police and law enforcement systems and the associated judicial and confinement systems into which police fit.  At least three types of partnerships are absolutely essential:

  • The first, and most important partnership, is with the Minister of Interior and the key leaders within the ministry.
  • The requirement for embedded teams at the regional, provincial, or even lower levels necessitates a second partnership, one with the headquarters responsible for counterinsurgency operations. 
  • Finally, the headquarters responsible for developing police and law enforcement systems must form a partnership with the international or multinational organization that may have overall operational responsibility

Understanding what the task of creating police and law enforcement systems actually requires, envisioning the organization and resources that will be necessary to accomplish the task, determining whether our nation or a set of partnered nations can make a commitment over the time likely to be necessary—all increase the probability of getting it right the first time and decrease the likelihood of facing a “do over.”