Establishing policing to serve communities | Simon Blatchly, Police Commissioner
Simon Blatchly, UNMIL’s Police Commissioner, is a senior police officer from the United Kingdom and served as the Chief of the Mission Management and Support Section for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Police Division before taking his post in Liberia in late 2016. Previously, he was the Senior Police Advisor in the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. In this interview, he talks about his priorities in leading the policing component (UNPOL) of the UN Mission in Liberia during its final phase of operations, as well as achievements and challenges in policing since UNMIL’s inception.
Can you explain the role of the UN Police (UNPOL) in Liberia?
The role of UNPOL has changed since the first officers arrived in 2003. While never having a full executive mandate (when the UN Police safeguard law and order while facilitating the development of a new domestic police service), the initial focus was on supporting the Liberia National Police (LNP) to manage the fragile security situation. There was a limited policing function in place in Liberia which had to be developed and supported. Vetting and recruitment was a priority. In addition, UNPOL developed training courses and workshops, along with one-to-one mentoring. Initial work was across all levels of the LNP, with UNPOL officers on patrol and working side by side with their Liberian colleagues across the country. Training and development covered all aspects of policing including leadership, management, human rights, professional standards, command and control, communication, crime investigation, community policing, performance and human resources management. We have moved from UNPOL doing the majority of the training at the National Police Training Academy to the last round of recruit training, delivered solely by Liberians.
The other aspect of our work has been related to the security situation. Throughout UNMIL’s time in Liberia, we have had a number of Formed Police Units (FPUs). These are contingents of 120-140 police officers from one country, skilled in public order techniques who can support their counterparts in dealing with crowd control and other disturbances. They also carry out high profile public reassurance patrols across the country. As the security situation has improved, the number of FPUs has reduced, and since full responsibility for security was handed to the Government in July 2016, they have not had to be deployed for crowd control.
As the capabilities and capacity of all the Liberian security agencies have improved over 14 years, the role of UNPOL has changed. The latest Security Council resolution directed us to focus on the leadership of the institutions and election security preparation. This resulted in fewer UNPOL working at a tactical level in the counties and greater focus on capacity building with national and regional command level staff.
Could you tell us a bit about your work here and some of your achievements in the time you’ve served as Police Commissioner?
The policing element of the mandate has had two different aspects: the first is building capacity within the security institutions, primarily the LNP and the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA). We have supported the reform of these institutions by developing the leadership, internal management, professionalization and accountability mechanisms with a focus on election security, plus promoting human rights, including tackling sexual and gender based violence. The other policing aspect is the protection of civilians and of UN personnel and assets.
Elections security preparation has been our priority leading up to and during both rounds of the presidential and legislative elections. Both passed with no substantive security concerns or allegations of human rights abuse by security agencies, and part of this success can be linked directly to UNPOL capacity-building activity.
Another achievement was the passage of new legislation, the Police and Immigration Acts, in 2016. This legislation was over 10 years in the making and was developed with the support of UNPOL. We are now working with the LNP and LIS on the regulations and administrative instructions required to implement the acts. We are facilitating a series of policy management board workshops for both the LNP and LIS to sanction the new procedures. These include areas such as discipline regulations, recruitment and promotion processes, use of force, conditions of service, standard operating procedures and accountability and oversight mechanisms, so that the agencies are established on a professional and open footing, with the public able to access and understand the rules the police must follow.
Looking back into the history of the Mission, what would you say are some of the Mission’s most notable achievements in policing?
Restructuring the LNP was a key component of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. UNMIL has led the UN support to the LNP since 2003. Initially, a lot of good work was done by establishing a strong foundation for the National Police Training Academy. Donors enabled necessary infrastructure (buildings and equipment) support, and UNPOL focused on the development of training courses for newly recruited and vetted officers. Subsequently, UNPOL turned its focus to the development of a national training capacity, so that the LNP have now taken over complete responsibility for training. This is a clear example of progress within the LNP.
Leadership capacities have been enhanced for senior and mid-level police, immigration and Drug Enforcement Agency officers, by targeted initiatives including collaboration with the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration and the Liberia Institute of Public Administration. Female leadership capacity has also been developed through training and mentoring. We now have a cadre of managers with experience of working with international development advisers, who have a good understanding of what a forward thinking police service should be and they appreciate the effectiveness of a community-oriented policing approach rather than a reactive style that can often result in excessive use of force.
This maturity of approach was illustrated by the conduct of the security agencies during the 2017 elections period when they used a service style of policing, engaging with political parties and the population and seeking to avoid conflict, such as through the effective management of campaign rallies.
"We now have a cadre of managers with experience of working with international development advisers, who have a good understanding of what a forward thinking police service should be and they appreciate the effectiveness of a community-oriented policing approach rather than a reactive style that can often result in excessive use of force."
There have been significant developments in community policing across the LNP. Internal management systems such as human resources and fleet management have been strengthened and partially decentralized through the training, equipping and deployment of specialist officers to the counties. Command, control and communication and incident management capacity have been enhanced with the reactivation of the 911 emergency call system and the strengthening of national and regional operations centres and an operational planning unit.
Working with international partners, UNMIL has supported the development of what is now, 14 years later, a more legitimate police service. While there is no question that much still remains to be done to further develop into a truly democratic and accountable police service, there is no question that the LNP has taken significant steps towards improving its relationship with the people of Liberia.
The development of the Liberia Immigration Service and associated border security work has been an achievement for UNMIL. The UN resolution 1885 in 2009 called upon the Government of Liberia, in coordination with the UN and international partners, to redouble efforts to develop national security and rule of law institutions that are fully independently operational. As a result, UNMIL identified as a strategic priority support to the Liberian Government to enhance border security and management.
In response, UNPOL expanded its activities and commenced provision of advisory and capacity-building support to the Bureau of Immigration and Nationality – now the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) - by deploying specialist immigration advisers to mentor and advise their immigration counterparts, co-located in LIS headquarters. Capacity-building support has been ongoing since and provided at strategic and operational levels including senior officer mentoring, leadership development, human rights training, manpower deployments, project management, community engagement, cross border cooperation, border control, immigration laws, decentralization, conduct and discipline, patrolling, use of force and gender.
In partnership with relevant agencies, UNPOL developed, implemented and supported the Integrated Border Management and Security System and the National Integrated Border Management Security Strategy, which included the provision of essential equipment at key border entry points that strengthened security and improved intelligence gathering.
The border management project integrated all border agencies, enabling the Government to adopt a cohesive response to border issues and challenges. It also improved facilitation of people and goods at the border, making it easier to use official entry points rather than unscheduled routes. The Liberian people and the alien nationals are safer with improved border management and security. The border communities were engaged with the project, helping build a secure environment as well as cooperation with state border security agencies. Lastly, the project has improved regional integration and development through enhanced free movement of people and goods.
With additional funding, the border project has been extended to another 17 points of entry, and 60 community engagement officers have been hired to conduct border community sensitization. The decentralization of these services has further enhanced the professionalism and visibility of the LIS in the counties.
Young Liberians in front of the Freeport Police Station
Are there some ‘silent achievements’ on the policing side that haven’t generated much news but have been making an incremental improvement?
The LNP Professional Standards Department has been strengthened and decentralized to the counties, improving accountability mechanisms across the country. The critical importance of accountability and oversight, including human rights observance, is recognized as LNP continues to engage with the Independent Commission of Human Rights and civil society organizations, and integrate human rights training into the LNP Academy. A less apparent achievement is the use we have made of the Formed Police Units in an innovative way. Normally in peacekeeping missions, FPUs are self-contained and focus on security patrols. However here they have been engaged in joint patrols across the country, and training, with the LNP. The current rotation of FPUs, one from Nigeria and one from China, arrived in Liberia in early 2016. They have both assisted in developing the public order capacity of the LNP. This activity has also ensured that we have public order units trained to the same standards, plus a command structure in place, allowing the LNP and the UN FPUs to work together effectively, should we need to deploy them operationally.
"If it was known that the Mission would be in place for 14 years, I am sure a different approach would have been taken with long-term plans which may have quickened and deepened reform."
The impact of the day-to-day support and mentoring to our security sector counterparts for 14 years is difficult to quantify, but undoubtedly real. Such contact ensures that issues, such as the release of arrested persons held in police custody beyond the 48-hour constitutional limit, are embedded to the extent that compliance is now accepted custom and practice by the LNP. This is from a position where arbitrary detention and arrest without probable cause, and extended time in custody before being placed before the court, was the norm.
What would you say are the main challenges UNPOL has faced?
As with other sections in UNMIL, there is always the challenge of resources and budgets not being aligned with the demands of the mandate. A review of UNMIL mandates over 14 years indicates UNMIL has been tasked to draw down and prepare for closure a number of times. This does not aid long-term strategic planning. If it was known that the Mission would be in place for 14 years, I am sure a different approach would have been taken with long-term plans which may have quickened and deepened reform. Budget support has always been limited for UNPOL activity, which has been a challenge.
The lack of financial support to our counterparts by the Government also hampers their development. However the good use of funds for quick-impact projects and more recently programmatic funding has impacted positively on support to the security agencies. This could, however, also have a detrimental effect as the police and immigration services become dependent on donor support.
The relevance of the skills and experience of UNPOL officers being recruited continues to be a challenge. As our counterparts become better trained and experienced, there is a need to ensure the UNPOLs deployed to mentor them have the necessary skills and credibility. Unfortunately, this is sometimes not the case. The skills required to support a patrol officer on routine duty are different to those required to train and mentor senior managers or specialist officers or to draft and train on regulations and standard operating procedures. Current recruitment practices and minimum standards have not been adapted for the changing role of UNPOL in peacekeeping missions. We are here to build capacity, but sometimes it can feel like we are capacity-building ourselves rather than the people we are here to support.
"My direct counterparts in the Liberian services are intelligent, well-educated, experienced officers and they know if the UNPOL who are to support their staff do not have the necessary skills to mentor, train or communicate, the result is no value being added by the presence of UN police officers."
My direct counterparts in the Liberian services are intelligent, well-educated, experienced officers and they know if the UNPOL who are to support their staff do not have the necessary skills to mentor, train or communicate, the result is no value being added by the presence of UN police officers. In UNMIL we have had some success by interviewing all UNPOL candidates, in addition to the UN Headquarters recruitment process, to ensure they have the skills required to deliver the mandated tasks. This has worked exceptionally well in the case of immigration officers we have recruited from other West African nations to share their expertise. There is also a need to recruit civilian as well as police experts, especially in the essential support areas such as fleet management and human resource planning. Ideally, we would also retain skilled officers for longer periods, as the regular turnover of staff damages continuity and therefore relationships with counterparts.
What do you think the Mission could have done differently as regards policing and what would you recommend to other police commissioners?
We have to ensure that all our activities are sustainable. We must consider this in everything we do and with all training and projects: how is this training or performance management structure going to be embedded, and will its impact last? We also need to be aware of the unintended consequences of UNPOL deployment and co-location. At its height, there were nearly 2,000 UNPOL across Liberia. We reduced to just over 300, all based in Monrovia. Unfortunately the LNP mobility and communications collapsed behind us. UNPOL in the field, with the best of intentions, were providing logistical support to the LNP, allowing them to move around and work across the counties, supporting investigations and using UNPOL communication for reporting to LNP HQ. Now they do not have this support and are struggling with communication and logistics. LNP had become dependent on UNPOL. There should have been greater focus on this from an early stage to ensure that everything we did was sustainable to avoid the outcome we now have. I would also recommend ensuring accurate records and assessments of all support given are maintained, to measure success and check back on physical assets donated. I would advise a new Police Commissioner to review what has happened before, look at previous plans to see what has worked and try to achieve sustainable development and outcomes.
"LNP had become dependent on UNPOL. There should have been greater focus on this from an early stage to ensure that everything we did was sustainable to avoid the outcome we now have."
If you were to compare the development of a law enforcement agency to building a cathedral, everyone wants to deliver the stain glass windows and ornate architecture. However you need to build the foundations, from the bottom up, with training and some basic equipment. There is no point providing a complex DNA machine or a CCTV system when the basic policing functions are missing or an effective crime investigation and recording system are not in place.
Coordination of support by all donors to our counterparts is a challenge. I have been fortunate to have good working relationships with the US and Swedish embassies providing bilateral support to the LNP. Ideally all UN activity related to security agencies, including from the UN Country Team (UNCT), should be coordinated by the Police Commissioner to avoid duplication. Working within the UN can be a challenge, given the different approaches between peacekeeping and the UNCT. We have implemented some UNPOL projects independently, rather than using an implementing partner or the UNCT, as this has allowed more funding to be spent directly on counterpart support rather than administration costs. Honest after-action reviews and lessons learned exercises are required for all projects, so mistakes are not replicated.
"If you were to compare the development of a law enforcement agency to building a cathedral, everyone wants to deliver the stain glass windows and ornate architecture. However you need to build the
foundations, from the bottom-up, with training and some basic equipment. There is no point providing a complex DNA machine or a CCTV system when the basic policing functions are missing or an effective crime investigation and recording system are not in place."
However, the key aspect for any capacity-building activity is the relationship with our counterparts. I have been lucky to build a good rapport with the Inspector General and others, meaning open and honest conversations can be had. It is essential that the host nation lead on all changeactivity and take ownership of any initiative, so that when the UN leaves, the activity continues.
What are your priorities and your focus as the Mission moves towards closure?
With the successful and peaceful conclusion of the presidential elections, the focus has been on supporting the transition to a new Government.
As we draw down, we have been continuing to support the implementation of the Police and Immigration acts. We have been delivering workshops and hope to have the regulations approved and implemented by the Ministry of Justice. The risk is that once UNMIL departs, the acts will not be implemented. The hope is that there are enough managers that genuinely want to change who will drive this forward, even when we are not here.
Some of our activities will be handed over to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) with whom we have worked in close co-operation. We have a joint programme that serves as the key instrument for the transition of support to the police and immigration services from UNMIL to UNDP. In 2017, UNDP’s areas of intervention were aligned with UNMIL’s mandate and focused on enhancing the institutional capacity of the LNP, strengthening accountability and oversight, and advancing community engagement. In addition the Swedish Government is currently implementing a sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) project aimed at enhancing the SGBV investigative capacity of the LNP. The US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has a five-year programme to increase the capacity of the LNP to prevent, detect, and investigate crime, while protecting the rights of all citizens and working in partnership with the communities it serves. Irish Aid, in addition to support for leadership development, has offered to provide funding to UNDP to continue development of the LNP’s leadership and management capability. So support will be continuing.
A critical area for interventions post-UNMIL relate to the 2017-18 Liberia Gender and Security National Task Force Action Plan which will address several issues by which security sector institutions are to implement the Liberia Action Plan for UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, as well as other relevant gender related policies and to enhance coordination and information sharing on gender advocacy.
"The public confidence in the LNP and other agencies is growing. This needs to be sustained. Corruption at all levels is still present. You only have to observe the unnecessary check points at night taking money from citizens to see that. But the continued training
and development in community-oriented policing and human rights across all law enforcement agencies, plus the establishment of accountability mechanisms
and oversight, give me hope for the future"
Progress is still needed in key areas for all the security agencies to become independent, professional and accountable and so contribute to the goal of an effective, efficient, accountable and coordinated security architecture. The slow progress of reform is exacerbated by inadequate budgetary support, with a reliance on international donors that is not sustainable. There is still an over concentration of police in Monrovia resulting in the inability of citizens living in the counties to access security services, particularly specialist services. There are also communication challenges, including coordination and information sharing, within but also between law enforcement agencies.
If you were to compare the development of a law enforcement agency to building a cathedral, everyone wants to deliver the stain glass windows and ornate architecture. However you need to build thefoundations, from the bottom-up, with training and some basic equipment. There is no point providing a complex DNA machine or a CCTV system when the basic policing inadequate budgetary support, with a reliance on international donors that is not sustainable. There is still an over concentration of police in Monrovia resulting in the inability of citizens living in the counties to access security services, particularly specialist services. There are also communication challenges, including coordination and information sharing, within but also between law enforcement agencies.
Are you confident in the future of Liberia?
The public confidence in the LNP and other agencies is growing. This needs to be sustained. Corruption at all levels is still present. You only have to observe the unnecessary check points at night taking money from citizens to see that. But the continued training and development in community-oriented policing and human rights across all law enforcement agencies, plus the establishment of accountability mechanisms and oversight, give me hope for the future. I have had active debates with senior leadership of the LNP over what a Liberian policing style looks like.
They recognize that they need to learn from international partners such as UNPOL, but develop their own vision of policing that fits their country.
The self-assessment retreats and now regular after-action reviews all point to agencies that are moving forward. The election process can be seen as a milestone in the development of the Liberian security agencies. They have successfully put into practice their training, skills and experience.
They effectively engaged with members of the community and delivered a safe environment for the democratic process to occur. I am proud of the contribution that we have made towards a safer, more secure, stable country. I am confident that Liberia is on the right path. The outgoing Chief of the Political Affairs Section of UNMIL, Olubukola Akin Arowobusoye began his career as a diplomat with the Nigerian Foreign Service, and amongst other postings, served in Liberia from 1989 to 1991. He later worked with two NGOs, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, a UN Resident Coordinator’s office, a World Bank project and UN peacekeeping missions in other parts of Africa.