Lessons in Policing from Kosovo

+ Kari Kohn

Riza Shillova was one of the first police officers recruited to the newly formed Kosovo police in 1999. He continues to serve after multiple promotions.  In July of 2011, he sat down with Princeton’s Innovations in Successful Societies (ISS) to discuss the launch of the Kosovo police. It is an interesting case of a start-up that leveraged the credibility and know-how of several partner organizations.

The Kosovo police force had a clean slate, having disengaged from the Serb-dominated Yugoslavian institutions of the previous era. The new force insourced the know-how and resources of several partner organizations including the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and later the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).

The cooperative effort was not without challenges. The partners sometimes struggled with differing institutional cultures. In other cases, the new force had to cope with a lack of service continuity from internationals as well as the partners’ lack of knowledge about the local community. The force overcame these challenges because it was able to quickly incorporate the service and input of local recruits.  Today, the Kosovan police force enjoys a high-degree of trust among the citizens it serves, a remarkable sign of success in an area with significant ethnic tensions.

In his interview with ISS, Shillova atributes the success of the Kosovo’s police force to several key factors.

The recruitment process:

The main factor that reflects to the trust of the community to the police is recruitment and selection. Why? We did recruitment and selection from all kinds of community members… We have all groups included in the police. We have minorities, all minorities included in the police. We have also gender representation. This is a factor that helped us to gain trust in the community because they are working, they are living in the community.

Continuous on-the-job training in an effort to shape new norms of police conduct:

Old police organization in ex-communist countries were corrupt, we know that. We lived here. They used to use different kinds of means just to force people to do things… There was torture. You know about the socialist or communist countries. Here this was totally different. It doesn’t matter if they were a police officer in ex-Yugoslavia. They had to go through the basic training. They went in the field, they went on patrol. They had to change their style of thinking.

Experiences abroad to learn from other policing styles:

…I don’t know, but I don’t think that you will find in this building anybody that didn’t go abroad for training, for visit—for official visit, for conferences. I think during the year there are 400 to 500 police officers that are going abroad… If you send people there just to see, it is enough to learn and to have a bigger picture about the style of policing...

Political impartiality and independence:

…You know we were established before the political parties, we were established before the government. We were established before the parliament, before everybody. We were the first institution established in Kosovo… There was a board combining by some political parties, but you know they didn’t have any influence even in recruitment and selection. Now we have also the law on police which was adopted in 2008. In that law it was written that operationally police is independent from the Ministry of Internal Affairs…We have our capacities here, our section that may make us independent. For example, I can tell you, you can compare this if you have knowledge of all the surrounding countries, neighboring countries. We have logistics, finance, budget, procurement, directorate here in the police. We are managing our budget, our resources. We have personnel directorate here as I told you. We are recruiting our people by ourselves. We are developing our policies and procedures. Our general director is our authority to develop administrative instruction…he has very strong authority. He can develop a promotion policy, he can develop a recruitment policy, not government, not Minister of Internal Affairs. This helped us to be independent from other institutions, especially from the politics. This helped police to be more trustful to the community because they don’t think that we are serving one party.

Guarding the guardians— the advising, monitoring, and mentoring role for internationals:

Also it is very important for the international community that they are engaged in these processes to help these new organizations to be impartial, politically impartial. It is very important because this can help a lot to gain the trust of the community because the community is divided in the political parties or ideology or minorities or race……But the internationals should help and should monitor the locals to be impartial because it is much easier for them to give for example a report or any advice, or to say that here you are independent and here you are not, or to tell somebody that they are interfering with the police task… [The] international community should be more focused in making police organization politically impartial, also not political but also based on minorities and ethnic groups. It depends on the specific countries but here it was very important for the Kosovo police in the beginning and now to be totally impartial… That’s why step-by- step we gained trust of the Serbian communities, because it was a little bit hard for us to be engaged in the community area, the Serbian community area. It is good to give opportunity to the people, to supervise, to monitor, to check, but to give responsibility in hand and to see if they are performing their duties.

The interview with Riza Shillova is here.  The published case study is here.

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