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Bosnia and Herzegovina has a very complex organizational police system which is determined by a complicated constitutional structure of the state. Police forces are distributed on three levels with 16 police bodies in total where none of them has subordinate role.

By Alma Kovačević (CSS) and Denis Hadžović (CSS)


Police is one of the basic components of the government structure responsible for public safety. The main role of the police in a democratic society includes maintenance of public peace and order, protection and respecting of fundamental citizens’ rights and freedoms, prevention and fight against crime, serving citizens and providing them with necessary assistance. The police is a crucial part in each security sector reform process, particularly in post-conflict societies and transition countries that are on the path towards modern democracy.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has a very complex organizational police system which is determined by a complex constitutional structure of the state. There are three main levels of government in BiH: state level, entity level (Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska), Brčko District which is a separate unit, and cantons within the Federation of BIH. None of these organizational units of the country is superior or subordinate to each other.

Accordingly, police forces are distributed on three levels with 16 police bodies in total where none of them has subordinate role (the organization of police in BiH will be explained in details in next part of the text). The number of police officers at all three levels of government is 16.618. Taking into account that the last census in BiH in 2013[1] showed that there are 3.7 91.622 inhabitants, we come to the number of 438 police officers per 100.000 inhabitants, which is more than the recommended number by the UN standard[2].

As for the civil servants in police institutions, Ministries of Interior and agencies which support police at the state level, their number tallies at 6.528. Number of women in the police force is 1.181 for the whole country which makes up 7% of the total number of police officers, while there are 3.269 women in civil service which means that they make up around 50% of workforce in that segment.

In accordance with the police structure, the education and training of police officers is arranged at several levels and institutions. At the state level, the Agency for Education and Professional Training is responsible for organizing and carrying out the education and professional development and specialist training programmes for members of the BiH police bodies and other security services and agencies (basic, specialized, permanent and other forms of police trainings)[3]. As for the Federation BiH, there is the Police Academy of the Federal Ministry of Interior (MoI) which is in charge of the training of the police officers and court police officers in the Federal MoI, at the cantonal MoIs, BiH police bodies, Brčko District and Republika Srpska, FUP.[4] In the above mentioned educational institutions, officers are being trained to obtain the rank of police officer (level I) and to obtain the rank of junior inspectors (level II). Training for police officers in Republika Srpska is carried out at the Basic Training Unit-Police Academy and at the Graduate School for Internal Affairs[5]. Beginners who are entering the police as police officers are trained at the Police Academy, while those who complete the Graduate School get the University degree of Law Enforcement Lawyer.

Recruitment of police officers at all levels is carried out based on the public advertisement and they can be recruited in the rank of police officer for the candidates who have at least IV of education (secondary school) and junior inspector for the candidates who have VI degree (high school).

Competences and territories

As mentioned above, the complex constitutional structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina also determined the complex organizational police system of the state. Therefore, it is not possible to represent jurisdiction of police bodies on geographical basis. Although some competences like maintenance of law and order and investigations of petty crime belong to the jurisdiction of Cantonal Ministries of Interior (MoI) in the Federation of BiH and to MoI of RS in Republika Srpska and some serious crime offences are investigated by the SIPA at the state level, there is plenty of the jurisdictions of the police structures which partially overlap and cannot be defined by drawing a sharp line between them.

The Police system in BiH is based on the principle of coordination not subordination. That implies that the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina and other agencies at the state level have no executive function over entity Ministries of Interior and agencies; whereas the Federation Ministry of Interior, or Federation Police Directorate (when tackling operational matters), has no executive function over the Cantonal Ministries of Interiors. This is partly a reflection of the non-harmonized legal framework, but is also reflected in the decentralized police system and functioning of the police system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Due to this, it is a common occurrence that various police bodies/agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina carry out tasks which, according to the legal provisions in force, fall under the direct jurisdiction of another agency.

Such a condition with the traits of overlapping jurisdictions became more complicated after 2008 when several police agencies at the state level, with operational independence, such as the administrative organizations of the Ministry of Security, were established. This was caused by the fact that many laws at the lower levels remained non-harmonized with those passed at the state-level or because a sharp line between the jurisdictions was not identified. Therefore, one part of the activities being assigned as competencies of the state agencies remained the competency of the entities, or the cantons, or it became very hard to determine a sharp line and differentiate things in terms of certain competencies of police work.

It is necessary to look at the competencies of police organizations in BiH in the big picture, for example, in the context of a total security system and the framework of organization and functioning of the police structure. One of the reasons for this is that police organizations at the entity and cantonal level – Police Departments – fall within civil institutions, that is, within the Ministries of Interior. The other reason is that, besides police organizations at the level of BiH which perform operational police work and hire police officials, there are other organizations which hire civil servants dealing with security issues, and their work is partially similar to police work. Those organizations at the state level provide support to police structures or are involved in solving the problems of security and crime, and similarly to those at the entity and Cantonal level, perform security-related administrative or legal-administrative work.

The only possibility for tackling a complete analysis of the competences of BiH police bodies is to consider its content and organization at the three existing levels which are also a reflection of the existing constitutional-legal system of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite identifying Brcko District BiH as a special constitutional category within BiH, it is needed to include its police organization into the organizational level of the entities, with respect to how the judicial and prosecutorial structures do their work. Hence it is needed to represent and analyse the competencies at each level of police organization, i.e. independent police bodies.

First level

Cantonal Police in Sarajevo
Cantonal Police in Sarajevo

The first level of the BiH police system is consisted of Cantonal Ministries of Interior (MoIs) in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since cantons exist only in the Federation of BiH, there are no such institutions in RS, i.e. there is no first organizational level in RS. Their jurisdictions are proscribed by laws on internal affairs of each canton. In the territory of the Federation, there are ten Cantonal MoIs, in conformity with the constitutional system of the Federation of BiH. Cantonal MoIs do not have hierarchical subordinate status towards the Federation MoI for they are not an integral part of its organizational structure and have full independence in implementation of their duties and tasks. Hence, the Federation of BiH has a decentralized police system with coordination elements. The Federation MoI may entrust the Cantonal MoIs with work falling under their competency, which is stated in the laws on internal affairs of the cantons. The Cantonal MoIs are subordinated to Cantonal authorities and funded by their budgets. These MoIs are comprised of police administrations established on territorial and functional principles. Each administration consists of two or more police stations formed at the municipal level.

Competences of Cantonal MoIs are prescribed by cantonal laws on internal affairs and pertain to the protection of lives and assets, maintenance of public law and order, and they are responsible for directly undertaking measures for prevention and detection of criminal acts which do not fall under responsibility of the Federal MoI, and for identification of the perpetrators. The activities of crime-technical expertise for the needs of police administrations are performed by Cantonal MoI, in addition to acquisition of weapons, equipment, drafting programs for vocational trainings and professional development of police and other authorized official persons. There are 10,392 employees in ten cantonal MoIs[6].

Second level

The second level of the police system in BiH is comprised of police organizations at the entity levels. They are Federation MoI, MoI of Republika Srpska, and Police of Brcko District BIH.

The competencies of the Federation MoI (under which the Police Directorate operates) are prescribed by the Law on Internal Affairs of the Federation of BiH[7] and pertain to, among other things, suppression of criminal acts of terrorism, inter-cantonal crimes, placing narcotics in circulation, organized crime, identification, and arrest of perpetrators of the said criminal acts in conformity with the aforementioned Law. Data shows that the Federation MoI employs 927 people.

The competencies of the Republika Srpska MoI are prescribed by the Law on Internal Affairs of the Republika Srpska[8]. In conformity with Article 4 of the Law on Internal Affairs, police jobs are operational-expert jobs providing protection of lives and personal security, human rights and freedoms, protection of all types of property, prevention of the perpetration of criminal acts, detection of criminal acts, identification, arrest and handover of perpetrators of criminal acts and offences to competent authorities, maintenance of law public order, protection of certain persons and facilities, security of public gatherings and events, and security and control of traffic on the roads, etc.

As far as the territorial principle is concerned, the Republika Srpska MoI is organized in six public security centers (PSC) comprising of public security stations and police stations at the municipal level. PSCs are directly subordinated to the Republika Srpska MoI. The structure of the Republika Srpska MoI is centralized, with clear procedures regarding coordination and subordination. Republika Srpska MoI employs 6,858 officials.

Police of Brcko District BiH is responsible for providing a secure environment to all persons in the District by respecting internationally recognized rights and basic freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Police of Brcko District BiH has full, real and territorial jurisdiction in the territory of Brcko District BiH, as prescribed by the Law on Brcko District BiH Police[9]. The police is managed by the Chief of Brcko District BiH Police, who has one deputy. Furthermore, the police structure is comprised of seven units and an operational-communications center reporting directly to the Chief of Police. Police of Brcko District BiH employs 306 police officers. The structure of Brcko District BiH Police is centralized with clear procedures related to coordination and subordination.

In total, there are 8,091 employees within the second organizational level of police system in BiH (Federation of BiH Ministry of Interior, Republika Srpska Ministry of Interior, and Police of Brcko District BIH).

Third level

The third level of the police system in BiH is comprised of three police bodies at the state-level with police powers: State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), Border Police of BiH and Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies. They are units with operational independence within the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ministry has no police powers and it is in charge mainly of administrative tasks. It works in accordance with the Law on Council of Ministers of BiH, Law on Ministries and other Administrative Bodies of BiH. Additionally, there are four other administrative organizations with operational independence within the Ministry but with no police powers. They are Service for Foreigners’ Affairs of BiH, Agency for Forensic Examinations and Expertise, Agency for Education and Professional Training, and Police Support Agency. Due to the length of this paper, as well as to the fact that they do not perform police tasks, we will not deal with these Agencies in details and will just briefly explain their competences.

State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) is an administrative unit within the BiH Ministry of Security with operational independence. It was established in 2004. The competencies of the State Investigation and Protection Agency are prescribed by the Law on State Investigation and Protection Agency[10] and pertain mostly to investigation of crime offences falling under the jurisdiction of the court of BiH. They are mainly organized crimes, terrorism, war crimes, trafficking of persons and other criminal acts against humanity and values protected by the international law, as well as serious financial crimes.

State Protection and Investigation Agency (SIPA)
State Protection and Investigation Agency (SIPA)

SIPA is managed by Director who holds the highest police rank and who is responsible to the Minister of Security and the BiH Council of Ministers for his own work and the work of the Agency. The Director has deputies and assistants who are responsible to Director for their own work. SIPA processes data and maintains records in conformity with the Law on Police Officials of BiH, Law on Protection of Personal data of BiH, Law on Protection of Secret Data, and other regulations of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Execution of the work falling under the legally defined competencies of SIPA is done within basic organizational units established by Law and other organizational units established by the Book of rules on internal organization and systematization of the State Investigation and Protection Agency.

In the framework of the existing material and personnel potential, SIPA is in a position to conduct the most complex investigations of organized crime. The Agency has regional offices in Banja Luka, Mostar, Sarajevo and Tuzla with its seat in Sarajevo. SIPA has 711 employees.

Border Police of BiH is one of the administrative organizations within the BiH Ministry of Security with operational independence. It is in charge of control of the state border which is 1,551 kilometers long, and has 89 border crossings[11]. Competences of the BiH Border Police are prescribed by the Law on Border Police of Bosnia and Herzegovina[12] and include enforcement of the Law on Border Control; Law on Movement and Stay of Aliens and Asylum; prevention, detection and investigation of criminal acts prescribed by criminal laws of BiH when such criminal acts are aimed against the security of the state border or against execution of duties and tasks falling under the competency of the BiH Border Police.

Falling herein are the criminal acts in conformity with provisions on abuse of public documents that serve as proof of identity and obligation on holding a visa; as well as provisions on movement and stay of aliens and asylum, should they be committed when crossing the border or are directly related with border crossing; criminal acts pertaining to transport of goods across the state border where that traffic is not permitted; goods lacking official approval or in cases where they violate an existing ban.

In addition, the Border Police has the authority to undertake measures for protection of civilian air traffic and the security of the premises of international airports in BiH. Within the BiH Border Police there is a Central Investigative Department authorized with the prevention and detection of criminal acts falling under organized trans-border crimes and particularly, the segment of trafficking in humans, illegal migrations and smuggling of goods. The Headquarters of the BIH Border Police is in Sarajevo. Border Police employs 2,202 people out of the projected number of about 2,500 police officers.

Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies of BiH is an as an administrative organization within the BiH Ministry of Security, with operational independence. It was established by the Law on Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies and Agencies for Support of Police Structure in Bosnia and Herzegovina[13]. The competencies of the Directorate pertain to the following: communication, cooperation, and coordination among police organizations of BiH; cooperation and communication with corresponding foreign and international organizations concerning issues of police work of international importance or common interest; cooperation of police bodies of BIH with corresponding organizations in BiH concerning police works or issues in relation to the competencies of the Court of BiH; standardization of work with regard to police matters in BiH, daily combining of security information of importance to BiH; the work of physical and technical protection of persons and facilities of BiH organizations; diplomatic-consular bodies to receive protection in conformity with corresponding laws and international obligations; collection, monitoring, analyzing and usage of data important to BIH security; and enforcement of international treaties on police cooperation falling under the competency of the Directorate as well as other works stipulated by other regulations.

Within the Directorate, there is an Office for cooperation with Interpol (NCB Interpol Sarajevo) and Europol, which competencies and obligations are regulated by special provisions. Its task is to provide and improve cooperation with police forces and judicial bodies in the combat against organized crimes and other types of international crimes, in a spirit of “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Directorate is managed by a Director who is responsible to the Minister of Security and the BiH Council of Ministers for his own work and work of the Directorate. The Director has two deputies who are responsible to the Director for their own work. The Directorate has 825 employees out of a projected 1,268. The Headquarter of the Directorate is in Sarajevo.

Accountability and integrity

Internal Control

All law enforcement agencies have internal control departments which are placed within professional standards units. They are responsible for conducting internal investigations based on citizens’ complaints about the misconduct of police officers employed in each respective police body. These departments can initiate the investigation also based on official request of an officer (ex officio). Their scope of remit also includes the investigation of excessive use of force, firearms, corruption and abuse of police powers. If, following the internal investigation, it is found that a violation of official duty was committed, a request for disciplinary procedure is filed. Employees who work in these departments are police officers. i.e. those with police powers.

Complaints about and reports of grounded suspicion of corruption in the police can be submitted in the same way as complaints about police misconduct, but can also be reported via the anonymous “Krimolovci” [Crime-Busters] hotline 0800 20505, introduced by EUPM, as well as via the central emergency phone number 122. Citizens can call these phone numbers to share any information they might have about all criminal offences. Also, If police officers are considered to have committed a criminal offence in the discharge of their tasks and duties, under the Criminal Procedure Code, a report against them may be filed with the competent prosecutor, who is required to act in accordance with the law in regard to researching and documenting the existence of a criminal offence. Pursuant to Articles 214 and 215 of the CPC BiH, this report may be filed directly by citizens.

However, the functionality of these mechanisms can be called into question. The departments for internal control/professional standard units that conduct investigations and act on complaints filed by citizens operate within police agencies and cannot be considered completely independent. Heads of those units report only to Director of each particular police body who is also in charge for their appointment.

Within the Council of Ministers of BiH, there is a Board for Complaints of Police Officers on the decisions of the police bodies of BiH. The Board acts in the cases related to status of police officers.

External Oversight

In order to ensure external and independent oversight of the work of police bodies, parliaments at the state and entity levels established independent boards.

State level

Parliamentary Assembly of BiH established Citizens’ Complaint Board on Work of the Police Officers in Police Bodies of BiH in accordance with the Constitution of BiH and the Law on Independent and Regulatory Bodies for the Police Force of BiHThe Assembly appointed the members of the Citizens’ Police Complaints Board proposed by the Ad Hoc Joint Committee for the Implementation of Appointment Procedures. The Board consists of seven members, who are elected from the BiH constitutive peoples and who cannot be the employees of any police body at the state level. This Board is responsible for the following: receiving, registering, assessing and forwarding complaints relating to the conduct of BiH police officials’; sending the complaints to the applicable police bodies; monitoring the progress of the complaint; initiating proceedings against complainants in cases of false or biased complaints; keeping records and databases of citizens’ complaints against police officials; collating investigation results and other evidence for the instigation of disciplinary or criminal proceedings; providing all necessary information to the complainant with regards to their complaint. Although not operating within police agencies, this board does not have the authority to directly investigate citizens’ complaints against the police. As an example, according to the Annual reports of the Board, 74 complaints were under consideration in 2013, while in 2014, there were 77 complaints. Several recommendations were issued to police agencies in 2014, out of which one has been fully implemented so far.

Apart from that body, and in terms of wider oversight of police at the state level, there is a Joint Committee on Defence and Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a body at the Parliament of BiH. Amongst other issues, its responsibilities are to consider and monitor the implementation of the security and defence policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina; monitor the work and considers reports from the  BiH Ministry of Security and other executive bodies dealing with defence and security issues.

Federation of BiH

According to the Law on Internal Affairs of the Federation of BiH (Article 77), there is a Board for Citizens’ Complaints which is an independent body of the Parliament of Federation of BiH which ensures its funding. It is consisted of three members out of which one is civil servant and two are representatives of citizens. Board members are appointed by the Parliament of the Federation of BiH. This Board is responsible for ensuring objective and fair proceedings initiated based on complaints and all types of submissions against police officers, and therefore ensures the protection of human rights and freedoms.

In a broader sense of the oversight, Parliamentary oversight of the legality of the general work of Federal MoI and Federal Police Administration is ensured by working bodies of the Houses of the Federal Parliament responsible for security matters. The oversight is carried out by consideration of reports and information of the Minister and Director of Police, as well as by interviewing them, and if needed, by direct insight to the papers of the MoI and Administration of Police. Those bodies are Commissions for Security out of which one is within the House of Representatives and one within the House of People.

Republic of Srpska

As for Republika Srpska, Law on Internal Affairs of RS (Article 10) prescribes establishing of the Board for Citizens’ Complaints and Submissions which is based at the seat of the Ministry. However, it is internal organizational unit and is establish for the purpose of monitoring the work of disciplinary units with the aim to ensure legality and fairness of the internal proceedings which are initiated based on the complaint or submission and monitoring of the implementation of disciplinary measures. The Head and members of the Board are appointed by the Minister on the proposal of the Board for Security of the National Assembly of the RS.

In wider sense of the oversight of police work in Repubilka Srpska, there is Commission for Security which operates within the National Assembly of the RS. Its responsibilities are mainly focused on policy on security and following and oversight of the activities of institutions and bodies of security of RS.

Apart from all mentioned bodies in relation to external oversight, citizens can also submit their complaints against police officials at any level of government to the Ombudsman Office of BiH, which is an independent body dealing with protection of human rights. However, this body can only make recommendations regarding police work, but unfortunately, they are not binding on the institutions to which they relate.

In addition to all bodies in charge of control of police work and protection rights of citizens, there are also independent bodies in charge of selection and appointment of heads (Directors and Commissioners) of all police agencies. These bodies exist at all levels of parliaments (BiH Parliament, F BiH Parliament, National Assembly in RS and Cantonal Assemblies in all cantons) and they are responsible for oversight of the police heads’ work and legality of work of police bodies.

Police powers

The authorities given to the police officials are regulated by the laws on each respective police body, Criminal Procedure Codes (at the state and entity levels) and the Laws on Police Officials adopted at the state, entity, District of Brcko and Cantonal levels. All police officers in BiH, regardless of the level on which they perform their duties, have same police powers.

In terms of the Criminal Procedure Codes, police officers are obliged to collect evidence on all crime acts. They take part in conducting investigation of crime, and in that regard, they are authorized to carry out, when needed, following duties tasks:

  • obtain the necessary information from persons;
  • make a necessary examination of vehicles, passengers and luggage;
  • restrict movement in a specified area during the time required to complete a certain action;
  • take the necessary steps to establish identity of persons and objects;
  • organize search to locate an individual or items being sought;
  • they may, in the presence of a responsible individual, search specified structures and premises of state authorities, public enterprises and institutions, examine specified documents belonging to state authorities or public enterprises or institutions;
  • take other necessary steps and actions.

In addition to the duties, responsibilities and tasks prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Codes, Laws on police officials at all levels of government, grants to police officials or police bodies the following police powers in order to prevent crime and to maintain public order and security:

  • to verify and establish the identity of persons and objects;
  • to conduct enquiries;
  • to bring in (the suspects and perpetrators);
  • to search for persons and objects;
  • to temporarily restrict the freedom of movement;
  • to give warnings and orders;
  • to seize objects;
  • to use another’s vehicle and means of communication;
  • to inspect persons, objects and means of transportation;
  • to record in public places;
  • to use force;
  • to process personal data and keep records;
  • to register reports;

Use of force is a very significant police power as it can result in fatal issues. Therefore, the manner and conditions of use of force are prescribed by Regulations on use of force by police officials at each level of government.


[1] Preliminary results for BiH stated in the First release of the Agency for Statistics of BiH at:

[2] The UN indicates an approximate median of 300 police officers per 100.000 inhabitants (According to the UN Twelveth UN Congress on Crime Prevention  and Criminal Justice – pg.19).

[3] Pursuant to Article 19 of the Law on Direction for Coordination of Police Bodies and on Agencies ofr Support to Police Structure of BiH, Official Gazette of BiH no.36/08.

[4] Law on Internal Afairs of the Federation of BiH, Articles no. 1 and no. 26 (3), Official Gazette of F BiH no. 81/2014.

[5] Law on Internal Affairs of Republika Srpska, Article no.9 (3), Official Gazette of RS no. 4/12.

[6] The numbers of employees at all levels of government mentioned in this overview are dating form 2013. Since then, there have not been signifficant changes.

[7] Official Gazette of Federation BiH no. 81/14.

[8] Official Gazette of RS no. 4/12 and no. 33/14.

[9] Official Gazette of Brcko District 31/09, 60/10 and 31/11.

[10] Official Gazette of BiH no. 27/04, 63/04, 35/05, 49/09 and 40/12.

[11] Out of 89 border crossings, 55 are international border crossing whereas 34 are local border crossings.

[12] Official Gazette of BiH”, no. 50/04, 27/07 and 59/09

[13] Official Gazette, no. 36/08

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