The Police to Protect, Serve and Promote Development

During our international workshop that took place on 11-13 February 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya, discussions raised the role of the police in society, especially during post-conflict transitions. We often assume that the police has a role to play in promoting and fostering development but how much of a role can we expect or should this security actor keep to its basic mandate to protect?

In its report entitled Urban Safety and Good Governance: The Role of the Police, UNCHS (UN-Habitat) describes the development of the police from the start of its professional evolution in the United Kingdom (UK), shifting the balance in fighting crime from repression to prevention, promoting visibility of policemen in the streets behaving with integrity. It is this community orientation that came to the fore, resulting in a focus on professionalization, training, and effectiveness according to public satisfaction criteria.

While a closer relationship between the police and society was established, the general tasks of the police still do not include ‘development’ as a specific duty. Similarly, in the Netherlands, the Dutch Police Act 2012 requires the police to ‘maintain law and order and provide assistance to people in need’, always in line with current rules and legislation and under supervision of legal authorities.

In Kenya, the police is mandated by the 2010 Constitution of Kenya. In chapter 14 National Security, part 4 National Police Services, article 244, its tasks are to: a) strive for the highest standards of professionalism and discipline among its members; b) prevent corruption and promote and practice transparency and accountability; c) comply with constitutional standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms; d) train staff to the highest possible standards of competence and integrity and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and dignity; and e) foster and promote relationships with the broader society. Like the UK and the Netherlands, in Kenya there seems to be no direct reference to the role of the police in development.

If we take a closer look at ‘development’ and consider the added value of ‘inclusive development’ (‘growth coupled with equal opportunities’ as defined by the Asia Development Bank), a different role for the police in society emerges especially in post-conflict situations. It is generally accepted that development requires a certain level of security in the physical sense – most people cannot run a business and earn a livelihood in a context of war and destruction. The absence of war is however not enough to prosper. Even in a situation of peace and relative safety, people can feel insecure in their ability to earn their income, take care of their children and build a life for the future.

Here we are referring to the need of people to know what rights they have and how to invoke them (‘legal certainty’) but also the need to know or expect that the relevant institutions and actors follow the procedures as intended. In other words, it is about trust and predictability of the situation. Even if the legislative framework is improving, as in Kenya, people need to be able to trust the institutions for the system to function. For development, people need to know that their investment can render a ‘profit’ later as long as economic conditions are favorable and efforts are not frustrated by arbitrary decisions, the personal interests of others or bad governance and unregulated processes.

According to the more comprehensive concept of inclusive development, the police in Kenya, among other duty bearers, have a deeper role in promoting development. As stated above, the police are tasked to provide (internal) security and under the Constitution to provide physical security by protecting human rights, preventing corruption, promoting transparency and accountability. These elements together help create a more predictable and trustworthy environment.

Furthermore, the ability to foster and promote relationships with all groups, underlines a certain level of engagement between society and the police services, which goes beyond pure security delivery.

The Hague Institute for Global Justice is jointly developing with the African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies, PeaceNet Kenya, Research Triangle Africa, and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an initiative on ‘The Role of Security Actors in Security Sector Reform and Inclusive Development in Kenya’ with regional comparisons to Rwanda and Uganda.

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