Tuesday, March 1, 2011
This morning, Andrew Exum highlighted a throwaway piece in the Washington Post on the police in Egypt. Like many unstable and/or despotic states, the police forces are among the greatest threats to the citizens of those countries. Whereas in most Western countries the police exist to protect the people, in most of the rest of the world the police exist to protect the state from the people. As you can imagine, governments love and people hate this setup. In cases like Egypt, changing the police forces to protect the people can go a long a way to improving the stability of the country - especially after they've tried and failed to suppress the population.
Change of this nature requires significant work on not just the training of police, but cultural adaptation and development. Evolving the mindset of established forces can take a long time, if it's not a generational effort. Sacking the police and starting over usually fails as well. Just like disbanding militaries, firing armed and trained policemen introduces a destabilizing force onto the streets; a force that had had better luck with the previous regime (see Iraq). It also presents the difficulty of vetting new police, often in countries with low literacy (see Afghanistan). Mere training programs from the U.S. also do not even begin to address the problem - often the police are already moderately trained. While improving their skills and capabilities are necessary, developing them as professional police requires a change in mindset and should be the focus of U.S. police assistance. The entirety of the literature on this topic supports this, even if development doesn't always do the trick (obviously, the host nation needs to really want to change its ways).
Ex is right in the gist of his post - if we're invited to help these newly-democratizing nations, we should start with the police. I diverge from his position in that we shouldn't start a training program, we should initiate a police development program (again, if invited to do so). Funding-wise, a small team of police development experts that help the Egyptians revamp their police structure, policies, and police academy curriculum would provide dividends much greater than the investment. This should be our focus in the region, not military aid, which is expensive for the USG and provides little return in stability or U.S. national objectives.
For those of you not in the small circle of people and organizations that work on police development issues, the USG's primary organization for doing this is the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). (Disclosure: With my previous company I did some work with ICITAP, but they were never a client.) This is a fantastic program within the Department of Justice that I was very impressed with, both here in Washington and in the field. And they really get it, which is why I'm giving them this free advertisement. They also come in a quite cost effective as they have relatively small staff and are funded by other USG agencies when implementing programs abroad. The challenges to getting them out into the field, though, is that they have a relatively small staff and are funded by other USG agencies when implementing programs abroad. In spite of their good work in many places (see Kosovo, Iraq, Panama, and a host of others), they aren't always the first agency used for U.S. police programs. Often, train and equip contracts are used first - sometimes succeeding, but often not and then require ICITAP expertise to sort things out. Another challenge for ICITAP is that police development often takes 10 or more years if done correctly, which is often beyond the political and budgetary horizons of the U.S., so the U.S. often chooses haste over right. We need to stop doing that.
The point of all of this is to say that police development is what the U.S. should focus their efforts on if we're asked to asked to help out in these countries. And we're asked to do so, the USG should support ICITAP missions to conduct these development and reform operations (in conjunction with their their DoJ OPDAT brethren and DoS INL training programs). In these days of governmental austerity, it is a cost effective way to meet USG objectives and the needs of the local governments and people.