Reinventing the Rules

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How Thailand Successfully Fused Human Rights Norms Into Police Training

Everyone always looks at me skeptically when I tell them how useful twitter is for finding information, but last week I became acquainted (through twitter) with an organization called ‘New Tactics in Human Rights.’ They’ve compiled a fascinating number of helpful tactics used by human rights organizations around the world to promote their cause. One tactic, in particular, was interesting because of the way they successfully marketed a human rights training for police in order to make it something that was sought after by police in Thailand. Click here to read the full article or check out the excerpts below!

Credit: Reuters

Credit: Reuters

In Thailand, the Police Training Program is located under the umbrella of the Forum-Asia Foundation (FAF). FAF’s strategic goal has been to improve the conduct of the Royal Thai Police (RTP) to be more in conformity with international human rights standards. In spite of its relatively high level of professionalism, the RTP is sometimes accused of suffering from rampant corruption, abuse of power, an often public-unfriendly attitude, and its abuse by political leaders. In addition the RTP has some institutional problems such as its highly closed and centralized character, its military structure and its limited accountability.

FAF chose to introduce a professional police training program with the RTP as a first step in opening the doors for more long-term co-operation aimed at supporting the strategic goal to introduce community policing, more accountability and transparency. A very important aspect of FAF’s tactical approach was not to label the training program “Police and Human Rights,” but rather “Professional Policing.” In contrast to other human rights courses for police, the police training program aims at teaching skills which enable police officers to be more effective and more respected in their work. It was clear that the RTP was very interested because it promotes respect for human rights in a very practical and pragmatic way useful for the day-to-day work of ordinary police officers.

Although human rights make up the foundation and are woven through the whole of the training program, “human rights” are usually not specifically mentioned. This approach has turned out to be very successful. FAF has managed to communicate human rights using terminology which is familiar to the RTP, but which in no way is considered “threatening.”

Generally, human rights training for police are a favorite activity of many human rights NGOs around the world (it is being supported by many donor organizations), but the results have been disappointing in altering police behavior.

Common Challenges with Introducing Human Rights into Police Training

Training is often too theoretical, based on norms and standards from international documents and disregards the practical needs of police officers. Although knowledge of the theory of human rights is definitely necessary for the higher management and policy levels within the police, one may doubt whether it is really necessary for rank-and-file police officers. For the ‘ordinary’ police officer it is most important to learn the practical skills in line with the theoretical norms and standards.

Training is often based on the perspective of civil society, not from police. Unfortunately, this can result in training that has a moralizing or ‘preaching’ nature which does little to convince police officers to change their behavior. Behavioral changes can only be expected if police officers themselves are convinced that a different type of behavior will bring them concrete benefits. This requires programs which target their day-to-day needs. In addition, NGO police trainers are usually civilian experts without practical experience as police officers. Such trainers are usually seen as ‘softies’ by the police and not people from whom they could learn practical skills.

Training on human rights is often ‘isolated’ from other topics of police training. This gives human rights the image of being something ‘separate’ and not part of real police work. It should be integrated with ‘classical’ topics of police training, such as the use of force and firearms, communication and investigation skills.

Training programs are sometimes ‘imported’ from other countries without proper adaptation to local needs and circumstances. Although police officers will enjoy a day off to attend such trainings, they won’t usually consider such programs as addressing their real day-to-day needs.

Training is often ad hoc in character. For sustainable change within a police organization as a whole, such training must be an integral part of the permanent training curricula of police training institutions. Over the years new cadets and servicing police officers will have received and will follow this instruction. Too often, human rights training for police resemble a type of “human rights tourism” by foreign experts. They arrive in a country for a short period of time; provide a brief training and leave.

Training in and of itself will not bring about real, sustainable change. Although training is indispensable for change, much more is needed. Changes in organizational structures, such as accountability, transparency mechanisms, and a change in overall management structure are also needed.

Community Oriented Policing

Methods such as community-oriented policing, lead to police behavior and structures that are part of the solution. FAF wanted police training that would sensitize police to the fact that they are part of the society, that human rights pertain to them as citizens as well, and that they serve society in a very important way. FAF believed this community-oriented perspective should be part of any police training program it implemented.

Why a Focus on Human Rights Must Start with Police Training

Why start with the training of the police, while there are so many other issues to be addressed, such as corruption, abuse of power, torture, organizational deficiencies? Practice has shown that NGOs have great difficulty in gaining access to police and police structures. Traditionally, police institutions are very closed and difficulties will only increase if an NGO starts by addressing highly sensitive issues (such as torture or corruption). Therefore, FAF very strategically decided to use a long-term plan of engagement and started with police training as a tactical way to achieve the aims of our human rights NGO for the following reasons:

First, based on previous experience, police training institutions are usually the more open-minded or ‘liberal’ parts of police organizations, and are more open to co-operation with civil society. Even though official approval from the central leadership of police is generally required for developing co-operation, this can more easily be achieved by providing training that genuinely addresses police needs.

Second, by providing the kind of highly professional training police see as directly benefiting their work, relations of confidence and even friendship can be established. A more long-term relationship can be built based on a growing awareness that both partners are not just criticizing each other, but have common goals: serving the community and, in particular, the more vulnerable groups in society.

Third, the training program would help us establish confidence, allowing future inroads to tackle more delicate issues of police reform, such as community policing.

Reasons Why Police Were Interested in the Training

From the beginning, FAF had developed a policy aimed at building local capacity and reducing the necessity of bringing in expertise from more developed countries. A major incentive for the RTP was that Thailand would be the first country in the whole region to implement this project and would therefore act as a pilot. It was agreed that if positive achievements were seen, the Thai experience with the new training program would be apparent to colleagues in neighboring countries. The RTP were keen to act as a ‘forerunner’ in the region. Well-trained Thai police trainers would become FAF’s trainers for the program in neighboring countries.

Innovative characteristics of the program

  • It is fully computer-based (CD-ROMs) with separate student and trainer manuals for each of 13 modules
  • The modules are interactive, aimed at stimulating discussion in the classroom.
  • The modules address human rights from a purely practical point of view, translating the norms and standards in practical behavioral skills which ordinary police officers can use in their day-to-day work. References to human rights often provoke prejudices among police officers all over the world and since the modules aim at developing purely practical policing skills, it is tactically much more convincing to use a “neutral” title for the program that better promotes changes in actual policing behavior.
  • The total training program consists of 13 modules: 1) Use of Force and Firearms; 2) Treatment of Victims; 3) Policing with Society; 4) Handling Traffic Offenses; 5) Police and Media; 6) Communication Skills; 7) Third-Party Conflict Intervention; 8) Domestic Violence; 9) Rape; 10) Sexual Abuse of Children; 11) Stress and Trauma Prevention for Police Officers; 12) Police and Drugs; and, finally, 13) an extensive module on Trainer Skills.
  • The modules focus heavily on ‘visualizing’ police training, based on the experience that police officers are highly ‘visual’ in nature. Therefore, each CD-ROM contains video clips and animations with different, practical scenarios that demonstrate desirable or less-professional police behavior. Practice has shown that such visual elements of training programs have a much stronger impact on the trainees than traditional lecture formats.
  • The modules are developed from a police perspective, addressing the practical needs of policing.
  • The modules are designed in such a way that they can be easily integrated into current police training programs in the permanent curriculum of police education institutions. This will contribute to a high sustainability of the program after its implementation.
  • At the same time, the modules can also be used for ad hoc trainings of specialized groups of law enforcement officers. Several of the modules can also easily be used for joint interdisciplinary training of police, prosecutors, judges and attorneys. 

Police Training Pertaining to Ethnic Minorities 

Another important result of the training program has been the request and subsequent development of a completely new, computer-based training module on “Policing in a Multicultural Society,” mainly focusing on the huge problems the mainly Buddhist Thai police have in their contacts with the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking population in the three southern provinces. Up to the present, Thai police training has not included anything about police work with minorities—be they Muslims or hill tribes or others. This is quite remarkable since the country has faced such problems for many years. 

Challenges and Problems in Implementation: 

The regular change of senior commanders in the RTP: This regularly caused delays since we had to re-establish relations with the newly appointed commanders. Fortunately, due to the top-level support we had secured, new commanders were usually more than willing to co-operate with us. Nevertheless, each occurrence required renewed efforts as well as creating some uncertainties. 

The integration of the new training modules into the permanent curricula of the various training institutions is a long-term goal: The introduction of new topics or changes to existing topics in the police training curricula is a highly bureaucratic and centralized process. In addition, it is often ‘politicized’ to a certain extent.

Lack of capacity: Training ideally should have included a much larger number of police trainers. As a result, FAF is highly dependent upon the good will of the 17 trainees in further implementing the program, both within Thailand and more broadly in the region. At the same time, FAF’s capacity has also been limited due to the turnover of staff in the key position of the police program coordinator—providing the on-going, consistent liaison work with the police.

Linguistic Skills: Unfortunately, lack of knowledge of the English language among the Thai police trainers has been a noticeable issue during the ToTs. Simultaneous interpretation was necessary and it cannot always be perfect in the sense of being able to express all the nuances which both the foreign trainers.

Personal Relations and Professionalism: Cooperation with police in many countries is only possible if strong relations of personal confidence exist. This may be particularly the case if the outside partner doesn’t have huge funds for providing technical equipment. Changes in the persons involved, both from the side of the NGOs and from the police, may have considerable consequences. Therefore, it is very important to build up a network friendship with several police officers in order to secure some kind of continuity. However, if persons change at the NGO, this may even result in the end of the program or at best the need to start all over again. In my experience, successful NGO programs with police are often highly dependent upon the quality of individual personalities and when these ‘disappear,’ this may hamper the continuation of the partnership as a whole.

Lessons Learned—Ideas for transferability and implementation in other contexts

Things Not To Do: 

Don’t attempt to impose your ideas or training programs. It is very enriching to learn from police in any country how they deal with specific problems. Such experiences can often be used as a source of inspiration for finding solutions for similar problems in other countries. As a matter of fact, lesser developed states have contributed very innovative ideas in the area of community policing which sometimes are more useful than the highly “sophisticated” experiences from Western countries which are less likely to be replicable in many developing countries.

Don’t start your attempts at relationship building by criticizing the police or pointing out the things which don’t work so well in their organization. This will more than likely have the opposite effect of immediately closing their door for any kind of co-operation.

Don’t offer to train them on human rights. Unfortunately, police carry their own biases and they are not usually thrilled by such ‘offers’ unless motivated by political or other reasons (real interest, a need to appear cooperative, improving public image, etc.) 

Things to Do: 

When approaching police do keep in mind that police training institutions are often the more open-minded or ‘liberal’ parts of police organizations. They may be more open for co-operation with civil society. Even though official approval from the central leadership of police is often required for developing cooperation, this can more easily be achieved by providing training in areas which police themselves consider being problematic areas, such as domestic violence or sexual crimes. Such areas are either not addressed at all in traditional police training or only in a very legalistic way.

Offer and provide highly professional training which police see as directly benefiting their work. This goes a long way in establishing relations of confidence and even friendship. Both partners have an opportunity to build on a growing awareness that they are not just criticizing each other, but have things in common, particularly a dedication to serving the community and, in particular, the more vulnerable groups in society.

Go into the work with the knowledge that this will be a long-term organizational endeavor. Only after established relations of confidence have been built with the police can efforts be made to tackle more delicate issues of police reform, such as community policing.

Choose staff with professional skills to work with police organizations. NGOs should be very critical in selecting staff members who will be in charge of the development and implementation of partnership programs with police. People without basic respect and understanding of the problems and specificities of police work will find it very hard to be accepted as an equal partner. Keep in mind that relations with police are substantially benefited when personal confidence and trust have been acquired.

NGO partners should do their best to understand the difficulties which police face in many developing countries concerning human rights-related issues, as police are under constant pressure from politicians and civil society. NGO partners should show and maintain strict reliability. Police organizations are highly disciplined and bureaucratic in nature. This implies an expectation that NGOs should also fulfill any agreements according to set timelines and quality standards. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in civil society circles.

To read the full article, click here.

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This entry was posted on March 11, 2014 by in General, Reports and tagged , , .

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