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The police and military (armed forces), the two coercive agencies of the state, are restricted by law, tradition, and policy to two domains in which they exercise authority. The police protect the domestic order against risk, threats, and crimes by persuasive communications, the enforcement of laws, and, ultimately, force (or its potential use), while the military defends the nation and the state against aggression from without. These analytical and policy distinctions between two agencies (or systems of agencies) which are authorized to employ legitimate internal and external use of force to deal with threats have become blurred in practice (Easton et al. 2010). The argument and worry that the police in the USA and other democratic countries are increasingly becoming militarized, hence will loose the civil and democratic orientation to their work, the use of force, and the collections of intelligence, has been raised by a number of scholars who study the police and by the police themselves (Kraska 2001, 2007; Kraska and Kappeller 1997).
Much of the concern that the blurring of distinctions between the policing and the military work will undermine civil and democratic policing rests on two limited understandings about the police, namely, that policing has never been militarized to any degree and by comparing two “ideal types” (yet legitimate conceptions) of both the police and the military rather than their historical configurations, relationships, and work.
The blurring of policing and military work and tasks is not new; it only has increased and taken many new forms in recent times, specifically by recent domestic and international developments (transnational crime, fears of terrorism, civil violence in failed states, peacekeeping and peacebuilding interventions, the weakening of border controls, technological advances in information acquisition, processing, and distribution). The distinctions drawn between military and police forces have always been blurred in practice. Police and military have worked in the same occupational space – the protection of society against threats; they have been bestowed by their societies with the right to use force, and the core values enshrined in their occupational cultures (internal authority, discipline, closed ranks, loyalty, courage, masculinity) are similar (den Boer et al. 2010, 225–226).
Ideal Typing The Police And The Military
Ideal Typing Democratic, Civil Policing
The classic image of the democratic police officer is the patrol officer, the constable walking the beat, known by and knowing the community and the village; approachable, protective, and friendly when encountering citizens in need; committed to service, the protection of human rights, and the rule of law; doing her/his work with integrity; and ensuring the effective protection of public order and the security of property and lives of the populace against threats and crimes. Democratic, civil police retain substantial domains of discretion in how to respond and to adjust their decisions to situational exigencies, guided by law, professional norms, public demands, and democratic political oversight (OSCE 2006). Since full service tasks are most common work done by police in democratic countries, this image is not a false one.
The essence of democratic policing is captured in six aspects of their work: authority to control and suppress illegal conduct is limited by and large to the domestic arena; the composition of police personnel should approximate the distribution of salient identity groups in society; orientation to public service; the constrained use of force; transparency in actions; and accountability to civic society by various mechanisms.
The occupational culture of democratic police officers and the organizational policies which shape their work and guide their discretion stress that policing is a service to the public and not to the state. Their use of force should be strictly limited by law, professional norms, and organizational directives and used only as a last resort when dealing with all people they encounter. The police have a responsibility to explain when asked, and the public has a right to know what the police are doing (except for legitimate secrecy in pending cases and investigative aspects of their work). The police cannot hide behind the shield of expertise and secrecy related to their general work, nor deny the media, the public, and the political leaders’ access to the information in their possession, unless legitimately protected. Lastly, if allegations of misconduct, abuse of power, or corruption are made against them, the police have an obligation to submit to external oversight, and the public has the right to require their submission to civic reviews. They do not have the exclusive authority and power to investigate allegations of misconduct in their ranks by themselves and take corrective actions. As government officials having great power over the routines of living in society, they cannot claim impunity for their conduct.
Ideal Typing The Professional Soldier
The military are an armed, professionally trained, and hierarchically controlled organization in which lower ranks are expected to respond quickly and without questioning to commands from the top. The military protects the nation, its people and territory, and the “national interest” by using its ability to detect and suppress external threats. It uses its capacity to exercise force to capture, disable, or kill enemies of the nation in an efficient, fast, and effective manner. The military collects information in secret via sophisticated and complex technologies and human spies and evaluates and distributes information as “intelligence” which is typically kept secret by national security justifications and tactical contingencies. Transparency is severely limited by the need to keep the country safe from aggression which, were the nature of the intelligence and the means by which it was collected be known, would jeopardize the ability to plan and execute the collection of information. Accountability of the military for its strategic and tactical conduct is first to itself, with civilian oversight by elected leaders the last overriding democratic option. By law and tradition, the military in democratic societies only intervene in domestic security when national and local policing systems are unable to maintain control.
In short, ideal-type descriptions of police and military emphasize fundamental distinctions between the two security agencies authorized to use force in order to protect the nation-state, its government, its economic and political ways of life, and its people and properties against domestic and external threats.
Specifically, the police see the people they have to deal with primarily as customers, innocents, and suspects, while the military sees real and potential enemies. The police are committed to maintaining public order, provide services, and enforce domestic laws while the military seeks the defeat of enemies and victory. The police use force only as the last resort in encounters, while the military resorts to force immediately to disable, capture, or kill enemies. The police tend to work as individuals (or limited teams) while teamwork is essential to the military. The police at the lowest ranks of the organizational hierarchy have substantial discretion in specific actions and encounters, a discretion that is circumscribed by situational exigencies and the best judgment of the officers on what is the appropriate, effective, and balanced action in the situation they are faced with. The military limits discretion at the lowest ranks through intensive training, a commitment to authoritative interpretations of what needs to be done in a situation (“that’s an order, soldier”), and loyalty to group. The discretion of the police is influenced by personal morality and ideological beliefs, while the military seeks to socialize new recruits and experienced soldiers to an ideology that eliminates personal views as guides to actions.
The police are accountable to public oversight and the courts; the military has its own legal system, code of conduct, and “criminal justice” institutions (military police, administrative tribunals and courts, investigative units). Civilian law enters only at the appeals level, after military institutions have reached a decision on alleged criminal misconduct or violations of the code of conduct. Control over actions by a professional military in a democracy is exercised largely internally, supported by professional norms which accept that the military is ultimately subject to civilian leadership (by the “Commander in Chief,” or some such term). Unlike the police, which are always guided and judged by laws made through an open, participatory political process external to the police, the military judges itself by its own laws and rules with external domestic political oversight and international conventions on the conduct of war as the ultimate backstops.
The argument predicts that the “militarization” of the culture, policies, and actions of police – that is, the adoption by civilian police forces “of militaristic practices, hardware, technology, values, language, and ideology” (Kraska 1997: 299) – will be a danger to democratic norms and professional ethics of the police.
Rather than follow the rule of law, professional codes of conduct, or commitment to public service and the protection of human rights, the police will drift toward a professional ideology which stresses the need to protect national and local security against threats and risks without interference or oversight by legal institutions, political oversight, or public demands. The necessary democratic balance between the rights of people and the practical need for security will tilt strongly toward security.
This argument rests on four main assertions. First, the police will alter their orientation to the use of force and the identification of categories of people against whom force can and should be used quickly and easily, justified by appeals to an “enemy” and “threat” language. Second, the police will shift from an orientation to public service toward a suppression of crime and disorder mentality and compliance with political definitions of threats to public order and safety. Third, the police will be drawn into the secretive collection of intelligence and categorical risk assessments which invade the privacy of people and assume threats, risks, and criminal intentions based on an individual’s membership in categories of persons (e.g., young male members of minority or ethnic groups, bikers, Roma, Muslims, travelers from certain countries) as these categories are defined by the police and intelligence agencies. Perceived threats and risks will have to be deterred and prevented by proactive police and intelligence collection policies before they can be executed. Fourth, transparency will decline. The police will become less accountable via civic oversight of their actions.
There is evidence to support these arguments but less support for the conclusions that democratic policing is threatened and may be replaced by new forms of aggressive, forceful policing which undermine basic privacy rights and equal treatment of people and communities.
Beyond Ideal Typing: Existing Overlaps In History And Space
The reality is that the police have always done a variety of work in nondemocratic ways and that the military has always worked with the police on specific security and order maintaining tasks. In practice, historically and currently, the police and the military have exhibited overlapping characteristics and work habits.
Varieties Of Policing
Being visible, available, and responsive to the needs of people, though crucial to any conception of democratic policing, is not the only type of work done by any police force. Tasks specified for the police have always included multiple goals and roles ranging from civil policing to state security policing (Brodeur 1983). All police forces anywhere include functional specializations which approach military-style tactics and mentalities: riot control, specialized units confronting dangerous situations (armed response teams, paramilitary police units), border policing, state security police protecting the political regime against threats to its rule, and the complete exception to democratic norms of colonial policing. Specialized police agencies and units tend not to share the mentalities, priorities, and practices which are claimed to be the defining traits of civil, democratic, and accountable police force.
Control of riots and demonstrations is not targeted primarily against individual malfeasance but is deployed as an organized, forceful police response to public, frequently violent, disorders (Della Porta and Reiter 1998). In most countries, should the police fail to control disorders, the military (e.g., the National Guard in the USA) stands in the background ready to enter the fray and restore order.
Distinct units trained in and employing military-style tactics (PPUs, Paramilitary Police Units) have infiltrated normal policing, a process which Kraska and Kappeller (1997) have argued is expanding. PPUs are expensive; not using them wastes public money; they have high status within the police profession; hence, their arms, group cohesion, and tactics are attractive to other police.
Persons entering a country at recognized border crossing points, whether legally or illegally, have restricted democratic rights based on the overarching need to keep the country secure against threats and risks. Seeking to cross outside of legal control points will bring swift and forceful reactions from border guards who can be police, military, or integrated units (Andreas 2009; Caparini and Marenin 2006).
At the US land borders, Marine units are deployed along the Mexico-US border, nominally for exercises but also to occupy and preempt territory through which threats and illegal migrants might enter the USA (Dunn 1996). At the Canada-US border, IBETs (Integrated Border Enforcement Teams), which include Canadian and US police, military, and intelligence agents, are a more recent development dealing with security threats (IBETs, web). Also, at that border, military drones have been called upon to assist local law enforcement in detecting fleeing felons and have responded successfully. The Coast Guard, an arm of the armed forces, has been responsible for the protection of sea borders. In most countries, including the European Union member states, border control is shared with police agencies or done exclusively by the military.
State security police tasked with protecting the state, the ruling regime, and the powerful against challenges to their rule and status have few qualms about abiding by legal and democratic norms, nor do state security police take their orders from or are responsive to public concerns. Their job is to keep those in power safe. This is true in democratic countries and even more so in authoritarian, transitional, or military states. The prototype of state security police agencies were the KGB in the Soviet Union and other socialist and authoritarian countries, but they can also be found in democratic countries, as during the Franco dictatorship in Spain when the Guardia Civil (a constabulary force) was the tool used to terminally eliminate political and intellectual opponents of the regime, or in lesser and more benign forms, such as transnational threat assessment and anti-terrorism units in police departments or specialized security agencies, to arrest suspects before they can act (Brodeur 2000).
In the history of state development (Bayley 1985; Tilly 1990) and the creation of security forces, there has always been a significant overlap between police and military work. That overlap has been strengthened in recent years by the shift in organized violence from traditional forms of aggression (requiring a military response) toward diffused, asymmetrical, nonconventional, substate forms – civil wars, guerilla insurgencies, identity group-based riots, and killings; the emergence in many parts of the world of powerful organized transnational crime groups who exert influence on states and societies by corruption, fear, and violence; and the growth in privatized policing and international policing and security providing companies. These developments have been enabled and smoothed by new technologies for sharing information and intelligence on a (almost) real-time basis. This new world (dis) order (Kaldor 2001; Oakley et al. 1998) has led to a transformation in how all state-based, and even non-state, actors (e.g., private risk assessment and security companies) can be engaged in an integrated manner against new threat and risk dynamics.
This convergence is most apparent in internationally sanctioned peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations. Police in UN and regional peacekeeping interventions, where local security forces have collapsed (e.g., Haiti, Timor Leste, Kosovo), have had to assume semi-military suppression and control functions as well as “normal” policing operations (Bayley and Perito 2010; Goldsmith and Harris 2010; Greener 2009).
The biggest exception to democratic, nonmilitarized policing have been colonial policing systems. When European colonial powers developed police organizations for their colonies, they did not export policing systems deemed appropriate for their own, that is, civilized people, but constabulary forces to protect their economic, political, and “civilizing” interests in their colonies. As the majority of the world’s territories and states are former colonies, at independence they inherited nondemocratic and militarized policing systems which since have been quite resistant to changes, despite massive efforts to make them more democratic in their performance.
Constabulary forces are semi-militarized police units created in different political, organizational, and cultural forms. In France, the gendarmerie developed as an occupying force in outlying areas of what is now France, in regions which opposed the imposition of central rule from Paris. In consequence, until very recently, the gendarmerie was located within the Ministry of Defense, even though it had become the police force which protected small towns and rural areas in France.
British policy on policing England versus policing the colonies exemplifies the use of constabulary forces. The British practiced how to control restless populations during their centuries-long and brutal rule of the Irish. After Irish independence, policing in Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom but was beset by ethnic, religious, and political violence and conflicts, continued the constabulary tradition via the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was used to protect Irish loyalists in Northern Ireland often in cooperation with the British military. The lessons learned by the British in their colonial rule of Ireland became the model for policing their colonies (Brogden 1987).
The Spanish and Portuguese colonizers exported their security systems to Latin and Central America which closely combined military and policing functions under one overarching organization. The police in most Latin American countries remained part of the military until fairly recently but still retain their titles (e.g., the Policia Militar in Brazil) and their outlook on citizens and criminals, captured nicely in the title of Husain’s (2007) study of police reform in Rio de Janeiro, “Those Who Die in War Are Not Innocent.”
The USA established constabulary forces in Central America and the Caribbean to help protect American investments and personnel against “revolutionary” agitations. The constabularies became converted into (para)military forces once local control took over. In Nicaragua, the armed forces of the Somoza government, which engaged in a protracted war with the Sandinista Revolutionary Front to try to keep the government in power, were drawn mainly from that constabulary and were supported by illegally funded paramilitaries (the contras) by the USA. US police assistance under the aegis of OPS (Office of Public Safety), in the late 1960s and early 1970s, stressed counterinsurgency over democratic norms and roles which were easily picked up by local police forces in Southeast Asia and Latin America, the recipients of the majority of OPS funding and mentoring (Huggins 1987).
Colonial policing had few attributes that one would characterize as civil or democratic policing. The police in colonies were used mainly by the colonial administrators to “pacify” the restless native, engage in military-style campaigns to punish local groups which resisted the imposition and demands (pay taxes, conscripted work) of colonial rule, protect tax collectors and the persons and property of commercial enterprises and missionaries, and suppress local riots and sabotage. There was no pretense that the police were to serve the population in any meaningful way; their job was to enable and protect colonial rule and all its activities, privileges, and laws.
The modification of imposed policing system after decolonization has been slow and incremental, and much of the occupational cultures and priorities of the police have not been responsive to demands for reforms. For example, the most populous democracy in the world, India, still uses the colonial Police Act, passed in 1861, as the basis for defining the jobs of the police which, despite numerous constitutional, ideological, and legal statements, still shape the way in which state and federal police understand their job (Verma 2011). In Morocco, military officers still occupy the commanding positions in the gendarmerie, the police force which patrols the roads and services the rural areas of the country.
In short, democratic policing, operationally defined as being available and willing to be of service to people in need, has been a rare policing model in history or is currently across the globe. Still, democratic policing as practiced by developed countries, currently in the guise of some form of community policing, has become the goal of police reforms promoted through international assistance programs. Militarization is seen as threatening progress toward that goal.
Reforms of policing systems in countries where policing and justice systems have collapsed increasingly include the institutional separation of the police from the military and argue for the demilitarization of the occupational culture of the police. For example, the Chapultepec Peace Accords, signed in 1992, which ended the civil war in El Salvador, dissolved the National Police, then under the control of the military, and reconstituted a National Civil Police with detailed instructions on the organization, tasks, recruitment, training, and democratic responsibilities. Reform and democratic governance were deemed not possible unless the police were reconstituted and removed from the organizational authority of the military.
Yet one must be careful when drawing a distinction between the organizational home of “policing agencies,” such as the gendarmerie, which are housed within the armed forces, and organizational and occupational cultures. Being under the administration of the military does not prevent democratic policing, nor does removing them from military administrative oversight create more democratic policing. The police can be quite forceful and abusive whether they work under military or civilian organizational umbrella. What matters are the organizational and occupational norms and cultures which are the guiding doctrines and “recipe rules” for the police.
Constabularization Of The Military
The military, in its various institutional divisions, has been increasingly drawn into what used to be considered “policing” work in a variety of ways: assisting in border controls, intelligence sharing with domestic law enforcement agencies, counterinsurgency strategies to reach the hearts and minds of local populations, United Nations or regionally authorized peacekeeping operations which include military and police contingents, and “nation-building” after multilateral and regional interventions in failed and conflicted-ridden states. These trends undermine the traditional restrictions of the armed forces to war-fighting and war-ending work by involving them in tasks for which they have little training, few skills, and limited willingness (Friesendorf 2010; Friesendorf and Kempel 2011; Perito 2011).
Training for military and police being deployed in international interventions, and increasingly for public order policing domestically, is conducted in a language which blurs traditional lines, which has led to both the constabularization of military goals and cultures and the paramilitarization of policing ideologies (Moelker 2010), and which will continue to undermine the bright line between police and military organizational cultures and practices and the distinction between domestic and external authority to exercise coercion.
This convergence is not by design but forced by the nature of current international and domestic security climates. For example, the explosion of transnational crimes which affect domestic security (drugs, human trafficking, arms trade) requires that police now work in other countries, in cooperation with local police, militaries, and intelligence agencies to control crime. Preventing convergence, or alternatively ensuring a continued separation and distinction between police and military work, will be difficult to maintain.
Beyond Dichotomies: Theorizing The Police-Military Nexus
How to theorize the new security structures? The most promising theoretical approach is the notion of a security sector or system (SS) and corresponding conceptualizations of reform (SSR) and governance (SSG). The security sector, in its leanest definition, includes the armed forces, police, border guards/police, and intelligence agencies as the core state security providers. In more expansive conceptions, the SS includes the criminal justice system, legal aspects of security, and non-state providers (Bryden and H€anggi 2004; OECD Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development 2007).
Security sector theorizing stresses the interconnectedness of the four core state security agencies. Reforms of the security sector, or specifically the police, to establish more democratic professional and accountable norms and actions cannot be simply focused on the police but must take their connections to other state-based security and private security providers into account. Security is provided by many actors, and that requires that they cooperate and work together domestically and internationally.
The political nature of policing, and other security policies, is central to the notion of a security sector and its governance. In addition to demilitarizing the police, reformers argue that the police be de-linked from centralized, political control of operational policies and tactics.
Concerns about militarizing the police are not illusory. Civil policing would change significantly if military cultures, norms, and practices began to infiltrate democratic cultures and styles of policing.
At the same time, militarization is not the greatest threat to democratic policing. More serious is the involvement of the police in secretive intelligence gathering, often along stereotypical categorizations of terrorist, transnational crime groups, or local “troublemakers,” such as “suggestions” from the FBI to local police to map the distribution of mosques in their communities or efforts by the antiterrorist unit in the New York Police Department to infiltrate and keep tabs on Islamic leaders. The police who conduct such secret invasions and information gathering of people’s normal, and legal, activities by the justification of local and national security will loose, once their police activities become known, political support and legitimacy.
The secret gathering of intelligence is just as likely to change the norms and cultures of policing as does militarization. The loss of transparency in collecting intelligence about normal activities disconnected from actual criminal threats and the convergence of domestic and international work from both the police and the military perspectives, both driven by political and national security justifications and the changing global world, are the historical and current reality which will not disappear. For example, President Reagan declared, by his authority, international drug trafficking a national security threat, not just a crime, thereby authorizing crime control and intelligence collecting actions which were legally prohibited to domestic police.
The militarization of the police happens for diverse reasons, be it by the promotion of that style of defining their work by police themselves; by the acceptance of a frustrated public fed up with disorder, crime, and fears which beset their lives and willing to give up some rights for greater protection; by depictions in the mass and entertainment media which portray armed police tactics as the normal response to increasingly dangerous situations in normal police work; and by the exploitation of risks and threats by political polemicists.
The issues are whether the militarization of policing and the constabularization of the military will become dominant norms and ideologies and whether the in-creeping of military styles into democratic policing will move that style permanently way from its service and order protection goals. It seems an unlikely possibility, as democratic policing is promoted worldwide, as part of larger political changes, by reformers, police officials, and progressive political leaders and also demanded by populations, as long as effectiveness levels are maintained sufficient to keep populations willing to grant legitimacy to democratic styles which balance crime control with justice. In the end, the greater threat to democratic policing is not militarization but the politicization of policing even in democratic countries, of which militarization is only one piece of evidence, and the increasing closure of the police to public knowledge and oversight linked to an increasing disregard for the rights of people and due process.
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