Policing in Developing Democracies Research Paper

This sample Policing in Developing Democracies Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need help writing your assignment, please use our research paper writing service and buy a paper on any topic at affordable price. Also check our tips on how to write a research paper, see the lists of criminal justice research paper topics, and browse research paper examples.

Throughout the global South, countries are struggling to build new democracies. Under the liberal democratic model, the police are regarded as central to the establishment of social order and to the preservation of fundamental democratic rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, developing democracies tend to exhibit certain characteristics that pose challenges for developing democratic forms of policing, and the police in developing democracies often act as they did under their colonial period, engaging in abusive and repressive behaviors that threaten security and political stability. Forces largely outside a developing democracy’s control such as neoliberal globalization and the hegemonic behavior of powerful states (involving the domination of weaker states without direct military force) present further challenges for reform and are often not taken into account by academics or practitioners seeking to reform the police in these young democracies. When powerful Western states or organizations attempt to reform police systems in developing democracies, their efforts often fail for a number of reasons, including lack of adequate knowledge of the country receiving aid, the coercive implementation of aid resisted by the recipient country, reforms that benefit the donor more than the recipient, weak recipient capacity or willingness to implement reforms sustainably, and the inadequate participation of local actors in reform planning and implementation. Suggestions provided in the academic literature for overcoming the above challenges are presented and discussed.


Since the great wave of democratization in the late twentieth century, many countries are in various stages of democratic development. Democracies at a minimum have a constitution (including uncodified ones as in the United Kingdom), fair electoral systems, multiple political parties, and mechanisms of accountability (Plattner 2008). Developing democracies that survive exhibit good governance in part by implementing sound economic policies that benefit the majority of their citizens, who then view the government as legitimate (Kapstein and Converse 2008). Liberal democracies have certain attributes that set them apart from simple electoral democracies, such as a free press, a respect for civil liberties, and adherence to the rule of law. In order to gain legitimacy in established liberal democracies, the police are expected to be accountable and transparent, uphold the rule of law, preserve social order, protect fundamental democratic rights and freedoms, and understand that their authority derives from their fellow citizens. Developing democracies are also expected by the international community to instill in their police these liberal democratic ideals while changing police policies regarding political activity, political prisoners, and the rights of the accused. Unfortunately, developing democracies tend to have characteristics that present numerous challenges to police development and reform. Democratic societies have an authority granted by law to maintain a democratically determined order, but if the power of the police is misused, this abuse of power is potentially harmful or even destructive to the structure and processes of democratic societies.

Characteristics Of Developing Democracies And How They Present Challenges For Policing

Democratic institutions and norms in numerous developing democracies have been eroding. Many countries that gained independence from the barbarism of colonization emerged with illiterate, rural populations with few opportunities for personal advancement (Pinkney 2003). In addition, these transitional and developing societies are experiencing rapid change associated with modernization and globalization, particularly in urban areas. These rapid changes are in part responsible for the numerous social problems these countries face and are less able to contend with, such as economic inequality; rapid rural to urban migration; the influx of refugees; increases in the proportion of adolescent and young adult males in the population; decreases in job opportunity; inadequate health and educational services; rapid changes in family and neighborhood structures; the proliferation of organized crime; and the legacies of ethnic and other forms of conflict (Neild 1999). The police cannot be expected to control crime or contend with these social problems alone, but the presence of these problems in the absence of a strong democratic state increases the likelihood that the police will resort to repressive measures and support their regime rather than their fellow citizens.

Developing democracies tend to suffer from weak democratic institutions, including those meant to institutionalize police accountability and responsiveness, a lack of commitment to the rule of law, corruption, fraudulent elections, high levels of crime and societal instability, significant levels of poverty and inequality, and poor police community relations (Hinton and Newburn 2009). Many of these countries still have authoritarian provisions in their constitutions with too few safeguards against control by militaries or the elite, and parliaments and legislatures may not act independently from the executive branch. Governments will therefore be less responsive to citizen demands, allow higher levels of police indifference and abuse, and offer fewer chances for economic development or trust in government. In other words, while these countries are engaging in democratic transitions, they are not necessarily ripe for democracy. Countries ripe for democracy possess, among other things, a stable middle class; an active, engaged, and educated civil society; and elite commitment to democratizing institutions (Pinkney 2003).

A number of transitional and developing societies could be considered weak states, which are countries without social cohesion or the state capacity or willingness needed to protect citizens as they live their daily lives (Goldsmith 2003). Weak states can contribute to the erosion of citizen safety by giving regime stability and narrow sectional interests based on ethnicity, religion, or some other category more attention than considerations of general public safety. In post-conflict situations, weak states can collapse without developing democratic institutions when crime rates are high (Neild 1999).

Transitional countries ideally seek to balance the need to encourage economic growth on the one hand and the need to discourage economic concentration and other forms of inequality on the other. Unfortunately, the capacity of emerging democracies to balance these needs is hampered by low levels of education among their citizens and little if any independent development opportunities owing to the marginal positions of these countries in the global economic system. Economic concentration occurs with regularity in these countries, which weakens the capacity and participation of civil society, corrupts politicians, and influences the police to act as protectors of the rich by aggressively policing the poor. Deepening inequality can lead to increases in violent crime and terrorism committed by concentrations of young unemployed males. State sovereignty and capacity are also weakened by the privatization of state enterprises, reduced regulations on business activity, and the ceding of authority to global institutions of governance such as the World Trade Organization. These neoliberal activities allow for the development of illicit economies and opportunities for criminals to participate in government, increasing corruption and weakening legal, judicial, and policing systems (Aas 2007). In highly unequal countries, citizens are more willing to accept authoritarian rule and politicians are more easily able to violate human rights and the law as well as weaken justice systems. In poor countries with high crime rates, the police are politicized and are used to crack down on minority groups and the lower classes (Hinton and Newburn 2009).

Violent and protracted ethnic conflicts are more likely to occur after colonial rule and this is another reason why post-colonial states have difficulty transitioning democratically (Stavenhagen 1996). Police violence, human rights violations, and other forms of police deviance, particularly by special units, increase as a result of these conflicts, as we have seen in Somalia, Cambodia, El Salvador, East Timor, Kosovo, Macedonia, and elsewhere. When ethnic conflict is a central component of social life in developing democracies, ethnicity itself becomes a politically mobilizing force and ethnically based political parties often develop (see Stavenhagen 1996).

High rates of conventional street crime are also typical of developing democracies, particularly in the low-income countries of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East, particularly among their minority populations (Neild 2001). Sources of crime in transitional societies are as complex as in developed societies, and internal as well as regional factors must be taken into account when assessing causes of crime in any particular country. Authoritarian elements in government create social control systems designed to maintain the authority and control of the regime, leading to police training that fails to prepare police to contend with conventional street crimes adequately. Increases in crime and feelings of insecurity coupled with a weak or repressive police response can weaken police legitimacy and lead to the privatization of security, death squads, and vigilante actions by citizens (Neild 2001).

Characteristics Of The Police In Developing Democracies

Most developing democracies were once colonies, and the legacies of colonialism impact policing just as they impact other social and governmental institutions. While scholars have observed some similarities among colonial police systems, such systems were still unique due to local factors and relations with the colonial state. For example, some police systems were organized around the annexation of territories for the purpose of settlement, resulting in civilian police systems (North America, Australia), while others were developed in order to subdue colonies annexed primarily for trade, leading to paramilitary policing on the continents of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America (Cole 1999). In the latter case, police leaders were often recruited from imperial armies, and police forces and militaries worked alongside one another. Sometimes private companies were established to maintain law and order, defend colonial territories, suppress political activities, supply cheap labor, and to hold rights over land and people.

In post-conflict or post-colonial situations, it is expensive and time consuming to create a new and inexperienced police force from scratch. Therefore, the composition of the police in a transitional period might be composed of former police and military officers from the colonial period as well as members of ex-insurgent or guerrilla forces, some of whom might have committed human rights violations in the past (Neild 2001). In post-conflict environments, institutional weaknesses, authoritarian nationalist cultures, apathetic or weak civil society groups, and the difficulty of imparting skills to new officers all work to hinder the police reform process (Neild 2001). Police institutions are not well defined and the lines separating police and military forces are blurred (Hills 2000). Citizens often view the police as weak and ineffective, and public demands for order can motivate repressive policies that erode citizen rights and militarize the police. In addition, political leaders in many of these countries from previous autocratic periods have converted themselves into supposed democratic leaders during democratic transitions, leading to a continued lack of legitimacy for both governments and their police (Hills 2000).

Regime policing – policing oriented toward the regime rather than citizens – easily flourishes in weak post-colonial states that are underresourced, and contain authoritarian and paternalistic institutions, including paramilitary police agencies (Neild 1999). During democratic transitions, these post-colonial or post-conflict police agencies tend to shield themselves from democratic accountability, and even though Western countries have provided police reform aid, police systems have generally not evolved in any meaningful way (Hills 2000). Police officers tend to experience low socioeconomic status and are often viewed by citizens as no different from criminals.

Neild (1999) traces how security debates tend to unfold in post-conflict societies. After a period of regime policing as described above, human rights and civil society groups engage in collective action to criticize policing and call for the democratization of policing. In some cases, police reforms following this activity center around building security and stability, but in most unstable democracies, more time is devoted to civil-military relations than to changing police institutions and practices. Next, as crime and crime control become more pressing concerns, the legacies of regime policing reappear in order to crack down on crime, though this threatens the democratic transition process. In response to these previous developments, some countries engage in reform efforts that create new models of democratically based security, but many developing democracies have not yet reached this point, leading to a continuation of the status quo of militarized regime policing, vigilantism, and the proliferation of private policing. Marginalized groups, such as trade unionists, the unemployed, students, children and adolescents, and the homeless, remain targets of police activity. Thus, even after reforms are instituted, demands for order-restoration lead to the return to old practices, and crime rates in the poor countries rise as ineffective and under-regulated police forces engage in old tactics (Neild 1999).

Police-community relations in much of the developing world are characterized by violence and repression, and policing is often used as an instrument of state violence and corruption. The socioeconomic inequalities in these countries are taken advantage of by state actors as certain sectors of the population are criminalized and therefore brutalized by the state. There is little-to-no community involvement with the militarized police and there are few if any genuine accountability measures. Newly democratic governments, such as those in Hungary, South Africa, and Brazil, have increased rather than decreased police powers such as the ability to detain suspects longer, to search and seize property, and to conduct undercover surveillance (Stone and Ward 2000).

The way that other components of criminal justice systems evolve or get reformed in democratic transitions can also hinder police reform efforts. For example, judicial reform tends to occur more slowly than police reform, and if the justice system fails to engage in legal tactics such as issuing warrants, the police might resort to illegal actions to carry out regular functions (Neild 2001). Various nation-building activities, legal aid, and good governance initiatives have not promoted development or created a legal framework that supports democratic policing or criminal justice reform in these countries (Hills 2000). Police and judicial processes remain abusive, corrupt, and ineffective in the developing world even though many of these countries have gone through democratic transitions. Neild (1999) describes these democratic countries with abusive justice systems and state failure to provide protection and services as uncivil or low intensity democracies.

Ethnic, sectarian, and other schisms negatively impact police behavior, recruitment, and training as well. Numerous ethnic recruitment policies occur around the world, and those organizations that engage in those policies are more likely to have paramilitarized forces, where training is in a military style, numerous rapid deployment forces that protect regime control are operating, and police and military roles are blurred even though civilians tend to head police services (Hills 2000). Centralized police forces are often less able to contend with local problems and priorities, and accountability and effectiveness are made more difficult due to a lack of quality statistical data and inadequate or politically motivated resourcing (Hinton and Newburn 2009).

Given the economic problems these countries face, the police suffer from a lack of resources, faulty-equipment, low salaries, and poor working conditions (Hills 2000; Neild 1999). These conditions undermine morale and self-efficacy (belief in one’s competence); and increase the likelihood of corrupt behaviors that weaken their legitimacy (Hills 2000; Uildriks and Van Reenen 2003). Low levels of satisfaction with the police among populations in developing democracies cannot be underestimated. Citizens often find the police illegitimate, unaccountable, ineffective, brutal, and violent. In the developing world, victim dissatisfaction with the way in which police handle reported cases of victimization and the ways in which the police control crime measure higher than in the developed world (Zvekic and del Frate 1995). Police in these countries continue to be distanced from the civilian population, leading to a mutual lack of trust and lowering the chances that genuine democratic policing can emerge or that victims will report crimes. Citizens indicate that their distrust stems from perceptions of corruption, unprofessionalism, unwillingness to protect citizens, and abuse of authority, which limits the willingness of citizens and civil society groups to work with the police (Uildriks and Van Reenen 2003). Human rights groups, for example, are reluctant to work with police forces in ways other than establishing watchdog groups on police abuses. Police officers in turn feel mistrusted by the public, forsaken by the government, and distrusted by their supervisors and other criminal justice system agents.

One major consequence of crime is fear, which has important reciprocal effects on communities and neighborhoods. Violence and the fear of it limits economic and physical wellbeing, restricts movement and access to jobs and schools, weakens social ties and interaction, deters investment and reduces economic output, weakens legitimacy in social institutions, and threatens the rule of law (Neild 1999). Fear of crime and lack of police legitimacy lead to the increased use of under-regulated private police forces sometimes staffed by demobilized soldiers, which increases inequalities by physically separating the rich from the non-rich and can lead to various kinds of repressive policing (Neild 2001). Private security is pervasive in the developing world and generally has a negative influence on the conventional police and justice system to fulfill their missions. Even public policing can become privatized in the sense that the wealthy and politicians can buy police presence while the poor suffer further as the non-policed areas in which they live become taken over by gangs, death squads and organized crime syndicates, all of which are often linked with the police (Hinton and Newburn 2009).

Other Challenges To Establishing Democratic Policing

Policing scholars and practitioners are often guilty of failing to place policing in developing democracies in its proper historical, economic, political, and social contexts, treating policing as if it occurs in a vacuum and leading to one-size-fits-all reform strategies that frequently fail to meet expectations. There are a number of factors that may hinder a developing democracy’s ability to implement a democratic policing strategy. In varying degrees, these factors include underdevelopment, a lack of sufficiently democratic institutions (including criminal justice agencies), a weakened and unempowered civil society, low levels of social and other forms of capital, pressing crime and other security problems, social and cultural conflict, political instability, a lack of legitimacy in social and political institutions, and international pressures that weaken the capacity of states (Pino and Wiatrowski 2006). In addition, pressure from foreign states, a lack of social cohesion, shortages of resources and functioning equipment, and political instability threaten the democratization of policing (Goldsmith 2003; Neild 2001). These various problems promote abusive, corrupt, neglectful, indifferent, and ineffective policing by negatively impacting training, morale, and operations.

Neoliberal globalization, championed by Western capitals and global cities, has had a decidedly negative impact on police reform efforts. In neoliberal thought, markets govern social institutions and a culture of market-oriented behavior in individuals is promoted to weaken the influence of states in the economic and political sphere. Capital flows, labor markets, and international trade are deregulated and then reregulated in a business-friendly way, and social and public services are privatized, enhancing the influence of transnational corporations over state policies (McMichael 2008). The USA has prescribed a set of policies to developing countries, known as the Washington Consensus, which spreads neoliberal practices globally (Williamson 2000). These policies include reducing public expenditures that subsidize social needs such as infrastructure, health care, and education; weakening labor, environmental, and legal protections; liberalizing trade and foreign direct investment; privatizing public enterprises; reducing marginal tax and interest rates; extending private property rights; and deregulating economic activity.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank structural adjustment policies are integral to the neoliberal agenda and the Washington Consensus, and these policies have had damaging effects on economies by increasing inequality within and between nations, leading numerous scholars to argue that neoliberal globalization has replaced older forms of imperialism to make developing countries economically dependent on Western powers (James 1997; McMichael 2008). IMF-mandated public spending cuts often reduce police officer salaries, spawning further corruption, and both retired and active-duty police officers might supplement their incomes by working as private security guards or participating in death squads (Hinton and Newburn 2009).

In addition, by promoting economic insecurity and therefore fear of crime, neoliberal globalization compels states to increase coercive powers while taking a more limited role in the economy, creating a market for policing and other security reforms. In fact, police reform is increasingly conducted by private non-state actors (Kempa et al. 1999), leading to the weakening of state policing institutions across the globe. While precise numbers are difficult to come by, it is now known that private security personnel are more numerous than state police (Aas 2007). Policing is less rooted in the nation state because of privatization, transnationalization, and the development of a transnational police subculture. These developments, including intelligence sharing between countries, moving some forms of police authority in Europe from nation-states to the European Union, and other formal and informal agreements, threaten the democratic nature, accountability, and legitimacy of policing (Loader 2002).

Since the end of the cold war, international financial institutions such as the IMF and powerful states – particularly the USA – have been increasingly showing interest in security sector reforms based on Western models, and coercing governments in developing democracies to adopt Western models and practices. For example, owing to the fact that police can hinder development by ignoring the rule of law and acting independently from their governments, the IMF and World Bank have been making the strengthening of governance one of their mandates for securing loans (Ball 2001). Police aid has become a major global export (Bayley 2006; Brogden 2005; Ellison 2007), involving private corporations who train community policing officers, private consultants who market themselves as gurus or experts, international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and Western overseas development agencies. Numerous agencies such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department for International Development (DFID), the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work to diffuse police concepts and practices between nation-states and supra-nationally above individual states in the case of Interpol (Goldsmith and Sheptycki 2007).

The USA has played a major role in these developments. As an important component of its foreign policy, the country has sent more police abroad, trained more police, and has signed more bilateral law enforcement treaties than any other country (Andreas and Nadelmann 2006). The USA usually dictates the processes and practices of these agreements and the contents of laws, and while elites in developing countries participating in these agreements claim they are now meeting international standards, they can utilize the agreements to meet various domestic agendas (Andreas and Nadelmann 2006).

One cannot assume, therefore, that the aid provided by Western experts is solely for the recipient’s benefit. During the cold war, for example, institutions and public order policies implemented abroad were intended to protect pro-US military regimes instead of the citizenry, leading to militarized police forces that engaged in abuses and repression (Goldsmith 2003; Neild 1999). When paramilitary units are created instead of democratic forms of policing in order to defeat political enemies, drug traffickers, or terrorists, it contributes to goal deflection, the overdevelopment of special units, undemocratic and dependency-driven reform and training, and insufficient participation by local actors and civil society groups. Local actors and stakeholders such as NGOs, local governmental leaders, and the citizenry are usually not consulted or part of the process of police reform in any meaningful way (Hills 2000). Donors attempt to instill Western values and principles where they may not apply on the ground, and during times of reform, there is a strong emphasis on nonpartisan, high-tech, information-driven policing as a way to shield police from democratic forms of accountability (Neild 2001).

Police reform within nation-states rarely involves meaningful forms of civilian oversight, resulting in police control over reforms. Since many populations seeking changes are marginalized and lack access to participating the process, the chances for genuine reform can appear highly unlikely. While activism and resistance by citizens, politicians, external donors, and civil society groups can influence reform efforts, poverty and inequality reduce the efficacy of these efforts since many citizens are busy with subsistence and survival concerns, and politicians can easily purchase votes with jobs, cash, and various services (Hinton and Newburn 2009). NGOs have difficulty collaborating in reforms because of their tenuous relationships with governments, and if many reform changes take place within police management, it is unlikely NGOs will have much access to or input on those decisions (Neild 1999). NGOs tend to be inexperienced in a number of countries and need more assistance if they are to participate. Police reform tends to be slow, erratic, and partial, and as NGOs attempt to assist the police while monitoring them, there is more opportunity for weakened relations between the police and NGOs. In addition, the obstacles to female citizen participation in coproductive activities with the police are rooted in the varied patriarchal structures of societies (Pino and Wiatrowski 2006). There are low levels of female participation in decision making in general and women suffer distinct harms disproportionately from crime (domestic violence, rape, etc.) and social and ethnic conflict. Low female participation fails to tap into the local knowledge of crimes and other problems that confront them in their communities. Because women are vulnerable to victimization in many developing democracies, their children are also at risk, limiting social activities that can be used to improve livelihoods.

A common problem is that donors have been largely uninformed about a recipient country’s history, political and ethnic problems, and cultural scripts for negotiating and implementing agreements, leading donor agencies to act with incompetence regardless of the quality of the plans put in place. In many endeavors around the globe, donor governments and their various participating agencies have not followed-through on their commitments and have failed to cooperate well (Muehlmann 2008). Many people hired to work on the ground with local actors lack expertise or knowledge of the country and culture, and when multiple agencies are involved in providing reforms, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are blunders in coordination and failures to meet funding guarantees. Planning and implementation are often rushed, and as Bayley (2006) has mentioned, many donors conduct most of their work via simple fly-bys and drop in and out visits. At a conference in the Caribbean, the author heard more than one local scholar call those that engage in such practices “tourist criminologists.”

Another donor-related problem is that Western democracies do not always agree on appropriate police standards. There appears to be no global consensus emerging on appropriate policing practice, use of force, or effectiveness (Hills 2000). When supposed universal policing standards are implemented, they often do not convincingly match the rhetoric due to local political, historical, and cultural dynamics that are not properly accounted for in preparation for or during reform efforts. If state-builders retreat from democratization efforts for short-term gain, lower their expectations, fail to accept responsibility, or over-emphasize local capacity and ownership from the beginning before capacity is developed, it will likely lead to ineffective service and higher levels of corruption and abuse (Kahler 2009).

The most popular policing export from the West to developing democracies is community oriented policing (COP), but the effects of COP in developing democracies have been mixed at best. On the positive side, there have been numerous improvements in the treatment of female victims, police visibility, and citizen perceptions regarding fear of crime, but there are serious problems that have hindered successful implementation (Brogden 2005; Pino and Wiatrowski 2006). It is questionable whether COP is suitable for export to foreign countries in the first place owing to the problems associated with implementation in the USA. While the concepts and theories behind COP are popular among academics and practitioners alike, it is conceptualized and practiced differently in every community it is implemented, the status quo is often maintained in terms of police behavior, co-productive activities between the police and citizens are usually limited to nonexistent, and those that need police reform and improved police-community relations the most often receive the least of them (Pino and Wiatrowski 2006). Many of the problems associated with community policing in the West also occur in transitional societies, such as a lack of participation and social capital to sustain reforms, lack of assessment and other forms of evaluation, continued police abuses, lack of organizational change in police departments, and others. Furthermore, when donors state they will implement community policing but engage in goal-deflecting activities such as creating paramilitarized special units to fight terrorism, battle well-armed drug traffickers and the like, or do not take the time to learn the local context and other realities, any hope for developing democratic forms of policing can be squandered (Pino and Wiatrowski 2006).

Another factor to consider is the willingness and capacity of the country receiving aid to actually carry out the reforms. Many recipients are willing if they see an economic or political benefit from doing so, but the capacity of countries to implement reforms, even if they are willing, varies. For example, owing to the legacies of colonialism and conflict, there are few local experts in many countries, such as policy makers, academics, NGOs, and other civilians with expertise that can assist with reforms, leading to reform efforts being dictated solely by donors, and in spite of the numerous pressures donors place on countries to engage in reform, there are various ways that recipients resist this pressure (Andreas and Nadelmann 2006; Neild 1999). Recipient countries can decide to implement only the aspects of reform they like after donors leave, resources can be diverted, and reform can be used as catalysts for political gain.

Reform requires political stability and favorable relations between federal, regional, and local governments, but these conditions do not exist in many countries. In numerous developing democracies, police are under the influence of individual politicians instead of being institutionally accountable (Hinton and Newburn 2009). Police commissioners are replaced regularly and tenure is often most dependent on loyalty to a political party or regime. In these cases, corruption is rampant, accountability mechanisms are weak, and police officers engage in violence and other forms of crime. Bureaucratic organizations are penetrated by neopatrimonial politics that make little-to-no distinction between the public and private sector, creating the personalization of political power into one individual who engages in clientalist politics that encourage corruption and the use of state resources and coercion to enhance authority and legitimacy (Hills 2000).

We do have to keep in mind, however, that sometimes the process of creating a new force works fairly well. Police reform in post-conflict societies making democratic transitions is more successful when the international community supports the peace process and provides assistance to public security reforms (Neild 1999). In countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala, local communities appeared at the time to welcome these new police forces and see them as an improvement over previous forces (Neild 2001). Still, very quickly, these forces can be corrupted, unless they are placed in a framework that emphasizes their role in terms of a democratic society.

Suggestions In The Literature For Overcoming Barriers To Sustainable Police Reform

The literature has offered some advice on how practitioners can improve policing in developing democracies in terms of practical and technical issues, but also in formulating ways to contend with the daunting challenges presented by neoliberal globalization on police reform efforts. Some argue that scholars and practitioners should pragmatically embrace and work within the realities of neoliberal globalization and American foreign policy objectives by utilizing top-down strategies and Western expertise, but to do so with better preplanning and coordination within and between countries, agencies, and private contractors involved in providing the aid, improving oversight and regulation of private actors, increasing transparency, and engaging in some collaboration with local stakeholders (see Bayley 2006).

Other scholars such as Loader and Walker (2007) question the underlying policy objectives of the USA and other Western countries and emphasize strengthening state capacity to manage economies and provide security democratically without relying on private contractors. In their view, states should be allowed to develop their economies independently and provide what Loader and Walker (2007) call thick security, which they define as security that is seen as a communal public good and provides a civilizing effect on political discourse, therefore strengthening democratic institutions. Others such as Goldsmith and Sheptycki (2007) want to help develop a transnational ethic for the provision of security that promotes peace and security in a democratic fashion rather than based on dictates from powerful states in a neocolonial fashion. This type of effort compliments the desire for thick security and independent development.

Yet another set of scholars argue for strengthening the capacity of civil society groups and the development of bottom-up strategies for reform, drawing from indigenous knowledge and the strength of NGOs to emphasize local needs (see for example Hills 2000; Pino and Wiatrowski 2006). While bottom-up strategies ensure that local actors are able to participate in the process, one must keep in mind that local leadership and capacity may be too weak to spearhead all initiatives depending on the context, and reliance on the private sector or civil society groups for security would not be an effective replacement for state-managed police forces due to the internal conflicts, inequalities, availability of small arms, and other difficulties that normally require states with the adequate capacity to manage (Goldsmith 2003). Civilian review boards are a popular method for involving citizens in the police reform process, influencing internal police discipline, and providing analysis, but success requires strong leadership, analytical capabilities, political support, resources, and minimal police resistance (Neild 1999). Female participation is needed as well to ensure that the needs and concerns of women and their children are addressed and because women have valuable local knowledge about local problems that can inform police reform and crime reduction efforts.

Scholars are still struggling with these issues involving police reform and neoliberal globalization, the proper roles and obligations of donors and recipients, and the extent to which civil society groups and private actors participate. Nevertheless, it appears from the above review that at the very least reform efforts require effective planning and coordination among all actors; significant local participation, including that of civil society groups; adherence to funding and other commitments made in agreements; an equal emphasis on both human rights and security; accountability and transparency among all actors involved; and an emphasis on long-term goals and planning. However, before any planning or coordination begins, certain conditions should be in place if sustainable reform is to be achieved. Reforms should only be attempted in relatively stable, non-repressive states ripe for democracy with the resource and capacity potential to maintain reforms sustainably and provide essential services. Reforms should be mutually sought rather than coerced or paternalistically dictated, and donor states or organizations should only utilize competent actors with knowledge of and expertise in the country receiving assistance. Reform also requires strong and legitimate police leadership eager and willing to carry out reform efforts and to participate in the process. Finally, police reforms should be part of a comprehensive approach that seeks to strengthen multiple democratic institutions simultaneously, such as other criminal justice systems, the educational system, militaries, and political and economic systems.


  1. Aas KF (2007) Globalization and crime. Sage, London
  2. Andreas P, Nadelmann E (2006) Policing the globe: criminalization-and crime control in international relations. Oxford University Press, New York
  3. Ball N (2001) Transforming security sectors: the IMF and World Bank approaches. Confl Secur Dev 1(1):45–66
  4. Bayley D (2006) Changing the guard: developing democratic police abroad. Oxford University Press, New York
  5. Brogden M (2005) Horses for courses and thin blue lines: community policing in transitional society. Police Q 8(1):64–98
  6. Cole BA (1999) Post-colonial systems. In: Mawby R (ed) Policing across the world: issues for the 21st century. UCL Press, New York, pp 88–108
  7. Ellison G (2007) Fostering a dependency culture: the commodification of community policing in a global marketplace. In: Goldsmith A, Sheptycki J (eds) Crafting transnational policing: police capacitybuilding and global policing reform. Hart Publishing, Oxford, UK
  8. Goldsmith A (2003) Policing weak states: citizen safety and state responsibility. Polic Soc 13(1):3–21
  9. Goldsmith A, Sheptycki J (2007) Introduction. In: Goldsmith A, Sheptycki J (eds) Crafting transnational policing: police capacity-building and global policing reform. Hart Publishing, Oxford, pp 1–27
  10. Hills A (2000) Policing Africa: internal security and the limits of liberalization. Lynne Rienner, Boulder
  11. Hinton MS, Newburn T (2009) Introduction. In: Hinton M, Newburn T (eds) Policing developing democracies. Routledge, New York, pp 1–27
  12. James P (1997) Postdependency? In: Darby P (ed) At the edge of international relations. Pinter, New York, pp 61–83
  13. Kahler M (2009) Statebuilding after Afghanistan and Iraq. In: Paris R, Sisk TD (eds) The dilemas of statebuilding: confronting the contradictions in postwar peace operations. Routledge, New York, pp 287–303
  14. Kapstein EB, Converse N (2008) The fate of young democracies. Cambridge University Press, New York
  15. Kempa M, Carrier R, Wood J, Shearing C (1999) Reflections of the evolving concept of ‘private policing’. Eur J Crim Policy Res 7(2):197–223
  16. Loader I (2002) Governing European policing: some problems and prospects. Polic Soc 12(4):291–305
  17. Loader I, Walker N (2007) Locating the public interest in transnational policing. In: Goldsmith A, Sheptycki J (eds) Crafting transnational policing: police capacity-building and global policing reform. Hart Publishing, Oxford, pp 111–146
  18. McMichael P (2008) Development and social change: a global perspective, 4th edn. Pine Forge Press, Los Angeles
  19. Muehlmann T (2008) Police restructuring in Bosnia-Herzegovina: problems of internationally-led security sector reform. J Interv Statebuilding 2(1):1–22
  20. Neild R (1999) From national security to citizen security: civil society and the evolution of public order debates. International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, Montreal
  21. Neild R (2001) Democratic police reforms in war-torn societies. Confl Secur Dev 1(1):21–43
  22. Pinkney R (2003) Democracy in the third world. Lynne Rienner, Boulder
  23. Pino N, Wiatrowski MD (2006) Democratic policing in transitional and developing countries. Ashgate, Aldershot
  24. Plattner MF (2008) Democracy without borders? Global challenges to liberal democracy. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
  25. Stavenhagen R (1996) Ethnic conflicts and the nationstate. St. Martin’s Press, New York
  26. Stone CE, Ward HH (2000) Democratic policing: a framework for action. Polic Soc 10:11–45
  27. Uildriks N, Van Reenen P (2003) Policing post-communist societies: police-public violence, democratic policing, and human rights. Intersentia, Antwerp
  28. Williamson J (2000) What should the bank think about the Washington Consensus? World Bank Res Obser 15(2):251–264
  29. Zvekic U, Alvazzi del Frate A (1995) Criminal victimization in the developing world. UNICRI publication number 55

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to buy a custom research paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655