Police reforms in Georgia & Ukraine — lessons for Pakistan

If Georgia and Ukraine can bring about effective police reforms, why can’t we do the same?


Mohammad Ali Babakhel June 23, 2016
The writer is a senior police officer. He tweets @alibabakhel

After the disintegration of the USSR, newly emerging former Soviet satellites tried to introduce police reforms. Georgia and Ukraine were two countries that were able to successfully transform their policing cultures. A predatory policing model that is based on collaboration with organised criminal groups badly affects the police image. Corrupt police officers and the powerful elite derive benefits from such a model and hence the public interest is compromised. The Georgian police, once known for its corruption, had a low public trust level of just four per cent. After police reforms, the public trust level rose to 84 per cent. How did Georgia manage such a transition? Was it an outcome of public demand or a dividend of political determination and ownership?

In Ukraine, several factors led to the transformation of the Militsiya -- a leftover of the Soviet Socialist Republic -- into the National Police of Ukraine. Reforms in Ukraine were supervised by Interior Minister Eka Zguladze, who also had prior experience of working on police reforms in Georgia. The police reformation strategy in both countries knitted the following strategy.



One, dead wood was fired and space was created for young blood. While officers from the old police structure were provided the option to join the new police, age limits were imposed, ensuring that the majority of them did not qualify. They were also provided the option to go back to training academies and complete new training modules. Objectives of the reforms also included a perception change. In the post-Rose Revolution scenario, the new Georgian leadership displayed the will and capacity to curb corruption. In 2004-05, around 40,000 civil servants were fired. Police reforms were also effectively used to showcase Georgia as an emerging market economy and a modern democracy. Prior to the reforms, cadets at the Georgian police academy had to pay $4,000-6,000 to gain entry into the police. This was replaced by transparent recruitment, which won public confidence.

Two, by employing information technology, the communication gap within the ranks of the police and with the public was improved. All police personnel have iPads. Since internet access is available everywhere in Georgia, databases can be easily accessed. Three, to discourage corrupt practices, salaries of police officers were increased. Police salaries in Georgia were bumped up around 15 times the original salaries with Ukraine following through with salary hikes as well. Newly recruited personnel were taught that corruption is not only a social ill; it is also a crime. The real challenge was to transform the police from a corrupt state agency to a state protection agency. To eliminate predatory policing, Georgia introduced well-paid small police units. Payment of salaries was made through banks, discontinuing cash payments through senior officers. Fine collection in cash was also discontinued. Property confiscated from organised criminal gangs was converted into police stations. In Pakistan, we do see provincial governments generously increasing police salaries but this hasn’t necessarily resulted in a fall in corruption, improvement in public trust or the image of the police. Hence in our scenario, a diagnostic approach is inevitable. Revolutionary steps are required at every step, whether it involves training, postings, promotions or performance assessments.

In Georgia, transparency was ensured by announcing all vacancies publicly with selections being purely competitive in nature. In addition, it was realised that community support is needed for effective policing, hence the police were sensitised regarding the needs of individuals and community groups. It was made clear that the police have to be accountable to law, and not to the government, encouraging personnel to adhere to the rule of law instead of following the desires of a powerful ruling elite.

The overarching goal of the Georgian police was defined to be the protection of human rights. One does not find instances of torture, arbitrary arrests and inhuman treatment of detainees at the hands of the police. Instead, defined protocols are followed. De-militarisation of the police was a top priority. The use of force was clearly defined in policies and procedures.

Georgian police also saw decentralisation, which enhanced the autonomy of regional and local police units. Autocratic regimes always prefer a centralised policing model, compromising public interest and safety. In the Pakistani context, the public and senior police management pin great expectations from the offices of the sub-divisional police officer and the Station House officer, but these expectations come to naught due to a highly centralised policing model. We should not blame politicians for this state of affairs. Senior officers should themselves devolve power to junior officers.

Downsizing the size of the police bureaucracy was another step in right direction. The former USSR primarily followed a numerical policing model. Georgian police reforms, on the other hand, involved a large number of inefficient and corrupt police officials being removed from service. As a consequence, around 16,000 police officers lost their jobs. The aim of the reforms was to reduce the size of the police by 20 per cent. Like Georgia, Pakistan also inherited a numerical policing model where performance hardly matters and efficiency is assessed by quantitative crime prevention indicators with performance audits and the gauging of public satisfaction and police image not being given priority. If Georgia can turn around its policing structure, there is no reason why Pakistan cannot do the same.

Reforms in the Georgian traffic police, which is in regular touch with the public, helped gain immediate public attention. Police were taught that helping the public should be their real passion. Police once known for coercion became active in resolving even seemingly trivial issues that were hampering the public although there were those who argued that the police are supposed to be crime fighters, and not social workers.

Pakistan has a long chronology of police reforms but we need to define our priorities, the long-term measures needed to implement them and the timeline of reforms. If Georgia and Ukraine can bring about effective police reforms within 24 years of independence from the Soviet Union, why can’t we do the same? We need to develop consensus, make police reforms a part of political manifestation, invest in law enforcement, legislate, implement and monitor reforms. The first step must be to divorce ambiguity and the status quo, and fight corruption within the police. Otherwise, all endeavours for reforms will be futile. 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2016.

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COMMENTS (9)

ishrat salim | 5 years ago | Reply @Asad: Yes, we cannot bring in reforms because we are a corrupt nation. The Police reform of 2000 was an excellent document, which the democratically govt of PPP & PML N has put it on the back burner because implementing it would have made them powerless. Sindh govt has re-introduced police act of 1830 ( which was replaced by police reform act of 2000 ) - can you beat that ? Yes agree with your comment " victims of colonial values ".
Asad | 5 years ago | Reply We can not bring police reforms as we are victims of colonial values and inaction.
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