Police Density Is A Major Problem Among Many Police Problems

by Joshua Foust on 3/5/2009 · 2 comments

While much of the debate over the Afghan National Police revolves around their corruption and how to reduce it, the major issues facing law enforcement in Afghanistan really stem from two things: first, the need to build up an institution called “rule of law” from scratch (itself no mean feat), and 2) mentoring them in appropriate methods of enforcing the law. In many ways, the ANP is in a state now similar to what the ANA was five years ago: under-trained, under-paid, and under-led. With intensive effort, primarily from the ETTs, the ANA has become one of the most trusted national institutions in Afghanistan.

The ANP are another matter entirely. Until 2006, German had responsibility for training most of the ANP. Their first five years in that role were a disaster. In the interim, contractor teams from Dyna-Corp did a lot of mentoring in RC-East, and as time went on NATO added its own OMLTs to the embedded training mission at the ANA and the U.S. deployed PMTs, Police Mentor Teams, to try to train the Afghan police.

That effort is still nascent, and hasn’t been given a chance to bear fruit. A major issue facing the police mission is trainers. At the moment, police density in most of Afghanistan is about what it is in a normal, western country—about 1 cop per 390 people, say, the same police density as Wales. While this number is itself revealing—New York City, for instance, has 1 cop per 200 people—it also confuses the point. When people like CNAS president and ardent COINdinisto John Nagl talks about building out the ANSF, or Afghan National Security Forces, he’s treating the Army and Police as if they should both be doing counterinsurgency (I mean this in a paramilitary sense). So are the ANP supposed to be a surge COIN militia, or are they to focus more on law enforcement—gangs and crime are a significant problem, in some areas more of one than the Taliban—like a “normal” western police force?

(I am ignoring for simplicity’s sake the increasing militarization of the police in America.)

No matter what, the density problem remains. Afghanistan is not just more insurgency-ridden, but more crime-ridden, than Wales. So when the Czech Foreign Minister complains that the E.U. cannot even field 4% of its police training requirement, there is probably a deeper story at play. The E.U. needs about 400 police trainers according to its own requirements—4% of that is around 16 people. That is appalling. Why can’t Europe find enough mentors? Why has it taken until now, for a minister to relate a number like that secondhand to a journalist, for the word about this to leak out? Being 96% short of your staffing goal is atrocious—especially if your job is to train the security forces that will ultimately enable an honorable exit from the war. It just doesn’t make any sense that it’s that bad.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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TCHe March 5, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Easy with regard to Germany:

Police basically is a matter of the German states. These states like to cut down on costs (who doesn’t?) by lowering the number of police officers (amongst other things, German universities – not great).
With an already reduced number of policemen, they don’t really want to see their costly trained officers leave for some wild and dangerous country.

The federal police … Well, THIS has been a paramilitary police once. Then came the 70s and domestic terrorism was abound. And offered the federal government a chance to expand the role of the federal police services (not necessarily the way the constitution envisioned it). Not paramilitary any more, policing train stations, airports, federal buildings and supporting the state’s police forces.

The federal government can’t order policemen to go abroad because that wasn’t what they had signed up for in the first place (the joy of being a civil servant!). The government tried to recruit volunteers of the federal police for a unit that could be deployed for nation building missions a few years ago, without any success.

Can’t tell whether that’s been due to bad pay or the dangers associated with it, but I DO know that doing a stint as advisor abroad is not exactly career enhancing.

I honestly don’t know about the other European countries, but when it comes to Germany, and apart from the few idealists who really like such tasks, the whole system is flawed. But that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as my country isn’t really keen on taking up international responsibility. At least not, if things are … err … dangerous.

David March 5, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Efforts to build a police force in Afghanistan will continue to fail as long as the Afghan people regard the police as not having a legitimate role in their lives and communities.

Police are recognized as having such a role in Afghan cities where people interact with strangers in various anonymous transactions where there’s little prospect of continued interaction. But in most of rural Afghanistan where people know one another, the police are seen as an unwelcome intrusion of government power that plays no useful role.

Traditionally police in most of rural Afghanistan guarded the various district and provincial administrative centers and also ensured a modicum of security on critical roads. Their authority came as the embodiment of a legitimate central authority that was accepted so long as it remained within agreed domains. Their role was symbolic and largely passive and did not involve active law enforcement.

They generally did not intrude into affairs of the people and when they did, they more often than not abused their power to aggrandize themselves. Even if the police behaved well, they had a limited role in settling the disputes and conflicts that sparked violence among people who shared a common space and had to find ways to resolve conflicts that would allow them to resume their lives in their face-to-face communities. These people did not have an option of picking up and moving elsewhere so they not only had to settle their disputes but also find ways to live with one another.

The international community is now seeking to apply a model of a society based on ‘rule of law’ where there’s a broad consensus concerning a standard, agreed code of rules and laws and a system for dispensing justice that simply didn’t exist in much of Afghanistan and is impossible to be established now because there is as yet no agreement on an accepted legal code, no effective justice system, and most Afghans remain confident that those who have power and authority such as police use it in abusive ways.

So, all of the mentoring, building of courthouses and jails, writing laws and distributing them, and equipping of police with nifty Ford pick-up trucks, radios and other modern gear will accomplish nothing as long as the Afghan people do not accept the police as having a legitimate role.

Add to this the fundamental confusion as to whether the police should play a comparable to police in more institutionalized societies or whether the police are going to be a paramilitary force capable of fighting the insurgents and providing security in the vast, sparsely populated rural areas and it’s no surprise that we have so little to show for the billions already spent on the police.

Comparisons to the ANA are of little relevance since the ANA had and has a clearly defined and accepted role even though it remains an auxiliary force that cannot operate independent of the Coalition forces.

It’s a bit strange that Jones and Fair in their recent excellent USIP Working Paper, “Securing Afghanistan: Getting on Track” did not mention Andrew Wilder’s superb AREU July 2007 assessment of police reform, “Cops or Robbers? . . .”. In it Wilder offers a sidebar on page 48 in which he succinctly offers “The Case for a Minimal Role for the Police.” He concludes, “A case could therefore be made that a smaller force with limited responsibilities would be more appropriate than a large police force with wide-ranging responsibilities.”

Were the ANP able to attain the capability to perform that modest role it would be a dramatic accomplishment.

And if the international community were more grounded in the Afghanistan that is rather than the Afghanistan that they fancy it to be or should be then perhaps they could set realistic goals and get value for their investment rather than simply throwing their money away.

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