Politicization of the police is a common problem of the Western Balkans and it is crucial to resolving it for building police integrity.
By Marija Ignjatijević (BCSP) / Photo: Profimedia
When it comes to Western Balkans, one of the most discussed topics in the past few years certainly is the EU integration of the region. These countries have unquestionably made progress on their European path in the preceding period. Croatia joined the Union in 2013. Serbia has opened first negotiating chapters in 2015 and Montenegro, already in an advanced stage of negotiations, is often considered a front-runner in the region. Albania and Macedonia have been candidate countries for several years, and with the signing of Stabilization and Association Agreement in 2015, Kosovo joined Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a potential candidate. However, behind this formal success in the integration process, Western Balkans region has shown minor progress in real terms.
It is not necessary to go further than the European Commission Reports from 2015, which point out serious issues regarding the rule of law and widespread corruption in all of these communities. Although certain positive legislative changes can be noticed, its implementation is still poor, allowing deeply rooted corruption mechanisms to function. In order to tackle corruption successfully, it is necessary to eradicate it within the institutions that have the most important role in fighting corruption, such as police. Within countries striving for consolidation of democracy and rule of law, it is unacceptable for an institution essential in confronting corruption, such as police, to be at the same time one of the most corrupt.
The POINTPULSE Network has recently conducted a series of interviews on police reform process in the Western Balkans countries, with researchers from partner organizations. Interviews focused on major challenges individual countries face when it comes to police corruption. Moreover, certain solutions and recommendations for instigating the reform process were proposed.
Overall, what appears to be a common problem of the region is the politicization of police, which is of crucial importance for building police integrity. Namely, excessive political influence on police is still present in each of the countries. This problem is particularly noticeable in the sphere of human resource management since recruitment, promotion and employment usually go along political lines.
Another problem faced by the entire region is the lack of transparency in the police work, which is closely related to the issue of public distrust in it. Over-classification of police documents is a frequent phenomenon, as well as the absence of public debates over the important issues of common interest. Undoubtedly, a certain part of police activities has to remain secret, due to the nature of its work. Nonetheless, the level of transparency needs to be increased in order to prevent corruption and various abuses.
Slobodan Georgiev, the BIRN coordinator for Serbia, has discussed the importance of cooperation between media and police, highlighting that both actors should work in line with public interest. Having noticed the lack of appropriate communication across the region, Georgiev has suggested organizing training for journalists and police officers, which would contribute to a better understanding of both media and police work and the significance of cooperation. Consequently, political influence could be considerably reduced.
It seems that depoliticization and transparency in police work represent essential goals all of the Western Balkans communities need to work toward, in order to enhance police integrity and public confidence in this institution. However, there are certain country specific issues in tackling police corruption.
According to Mirela Hodović, the researcher in the Centre for Security Studies in Sarajevo, overlapping jurisdiction of police structures is one of the main challenges in police reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A complex policing system in BiH implies the existence and cooperation of 16 different police agencies on sub-state and state level. Moreover, Bosnian police system is not based on the principle of subordination, but coordination, which creates problems in its work.
Plator Avdiu, the researcher at the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies, spoke about the state of police reform in Kosovo. He pointed out the discrepancy in public perception of police corruption and reality. Citizens of Kosovo perceive police as the least corrupted law enforcement institution. However, in practice, police corruption represents a major problem as evidenced by the first-hand experience of the citizens who come in contact with them. Avdiu concludes that such divergence exists due to the fear of citizens to admit their own involvement in corruptive actions.
Sofija Mandić and Bojan Elek, researchers at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, have highlighted the lack of police integrity in Serbia and hence, the lack of trust in the police, as an institution. In line with the 3D formula (demilitarization, decentralization, and depoliticization) developed by OSCE in order to outline police reform process, Elek explained the emergence of a „new 3D formula“, which indicates deprofessionalization, defunding and dilettantism of police reform process in Serbia. Mandić has stressed out that the absence of political will to fight corruption represents an obstacle in developing police structures which would serve the citizens.
Besides politicization of police in Macedonia, in terms of human resource management, Kaltrina Selimi, the researcher at Analytica, points out that the Department of Internal Control has been heavily criticized for being biased in their work. Namely, there are claims that the department punishes officers based on political grounds and their political affiliation.
When it comes to Montenegro, Dina Bajramspahić, the researcher at Institute Alternative, underlines the excessive use of force as a major problem and a widespread practice within Montenegrin police. This issue has become particularly evident in the fall of 2015, with the violent suppression of anti-government protests.
Nevertheless, certain practices have proven to be efficient in tackling police corruption. What appears to be a positive practice across the region are various types of website or android applications designed for reporting individual cases of corruption. For example in Sarajevo, both citizens and employees can report police corruption through an online application on the website of Ministry of Interior of Sarajevo Canton. Similar examples have been commended as valuable complementary anti-corruption mechanisms in Kosovo and Macedonia. These tools are usually anonymous and thus, encourage citizens, or officers themselves, to file complaints without any consequences. On the other hand, in the context of overall lack of trust in the police, public is often discouraged by the usual absence of adequate reactions.
In conclusion, the first step in addressing the problem of police corruption is the consistent and effective implementation of existing legislative solutions, which certainly presupposes the existence of the political will. This is primarily related to the unhindered functioning and mutual coordination of mechanisms of internal and external oversight of police. Furthermore, it is essential to confront politicization of police, especially in the area of human resource management. This can be achieved through a system of evaluation and promotion based on competences and work results, rather than political affiliation. Finally, transparency and openness to the public is certainly the most effective tool in fighting corruption. Raising the level of transparency presumes greater involvement of citizens and civil society in monitoring police work and, consequently, an increase in the level of public trust in this institution.