Police, Bin Quick-Fix Reform: A Plunge into the Wilderness for our Criminal Justice System as UNMIL Drawdown


By James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 14, 2015



The Liberian Observer of 4th Sept. 2015, carried two very important articles that did not miss the attention of many commentators. One of the titles was “Ellen Seeks to Restructure LNP, BIN (www.liberianobserver.com/news/ellen-seeks-restructure-lnp-bin), and the other: “Lapses in SSR Spur Public Fear over UNMIL Drawdown

(www.liberianobserver.com/news/lapses-ssr-spur-public-fear-unmil -drawdown).
The latter is apparently a study conducted by Dr. Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae , a member of the Governance Commission (GC), which revealed the countless lapses  in the performance of the national security apparatus, especially the Liberian National Police (LNP). It is not clear whether the study was a personal undertaking or a project of the GC. But whatever the case, the findings are a damaging indictment of both the UNMIL and our government. Because from the recruitment process to the training and state support are all laden with serious flaws. Among the worst in the findings reads: “That the government does not see the police as its responsibility, but rather as that of the international community that spearheaded the entire process with little or no interest from the government.” This is the core of the problem.

What baffles my mind, though, is Dr. Weh-Dorliae’s recommendation which states: “That government and UNMIL  must collaborate to professionalize,  depoliticize and structure the LNP as a semi-autonomous service institution (author’s note); and situate the force in its common law criminal justice system with organization, structure and rank catalog harmonized with its police tradition. The UN post-conflict international police training mission in the future should be driven by what is required to implement training specific to host country’s policing needs and not by availability of funding and donors.”

Now, if every line in Dr. Weh-Dorliae’s findings were to be true (and I have no reason to doubt his competence in the area), then we need to know how the ‘structuring of the LNP as an semi-autonomous service institution’ will better the situation - if not worst, especially being cognizant of the malfunctioning of the existing autonomous state agencies. I would have thought,  at this last hour, that  it is the government we must obligate to take its fullest responsibility, leaving out UNMIL to pack their bags for departure. Additionally, why advice the UN post-conflict international police training mission when, in fact, it is our own government that relinquished itself of its responsibility in the matter.

LNP, BIN Reform
On the heels of the research mentioned above,   the Executive has submitted two security bills to the Legislature since August 30th to be enacted into law. The first bill entitled: “Liberia National Police Act of 2015” establishes the LNP as a semi-autonomous agency (author’s note) under the Ministry of Justice and to be headed by an Inspector General (doing away the former title of “Director”). If the Legislature should pass this reform, I am afraid, it could plunge the LNP into the wilderness – and with it our entire criminal justice system and national security apparatus.

And somehow Dr. Weh-Dorliae should be relieved since the reform do not seem to derive from his findings nor even his proposal. Because according to the Executive, the reform is intended to “fulfil the commitment of government to the United Nations Security Council towards a new police act approved prior to the September 2015 review of the UN Mission in Liberia.” That is, it is only an eye-servant initiative.

Then comes the second Act which transforms the BIN to “The Liberia Immigration Service (LIS). It is not clear whether the LIS is also given a semi-autonomous status. What is certain, however, is that behind this precipitated reform, the President also writes: “As Liberia commits to transition its system with that of its international partners and of its membership with the UN standardized pattern of governance within the security apparatus (author’s note), MOJ has embarked on reforming the LIS, formerly BIN, in consultation and collaboration with all of the relevant stakeholders and security sector in Liberia”.

Let us now examine the two main questionable issues, as I see, within the reform – that is, the semi-autonomous status and the purported reason for such a fundamental change .

1) What does it imply to be a semi-autonomous agency?
The prefix “semi” is defined as ‘half or partly’; and “autonomous” is referred to as self-governing or independence. This implies that the LNP as a semi-autonomous agency would be partly (50%) state control and finance, and the other 50% self-governed and self-financed now, and when UNMIL shall have left Liberia.

Thus come some troubling questions:

The Legislature debate must produce satisfactory answers to these questions - if this bill deserves to ever be enacted into law.

2) What is the UN standardized pattern of governance within the security apparatus?
If, as we are told, the UN has a standardized pattern of governance within the security apparatus of its member states, then obviously there must also be a standardized pattern of government among these same states. But as far as I know, and from time in memorial, the UN membership is composed of democratic governments, communists, dictators, kingdoms, tyrants, and you name it. And each has a policing pattern tailored to its own needs and the culture of the people.
Thus for example, I learned in my class of comparative policing that an English cop did not carry a gun; an American cop shoots to kill – this country has a gun culture, and the theory of self-defence takes precedence; in France self-defence does not hold (or very rarely) –  you should hurt or kill a rogue in your bedroom, and you will end up fast in jail or pay damages to the rogue; and as for the tyrants, dictators and others, some of us have lived long enough to know their policing methods since the days of Tubman. Additionally, police in most of Europe are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and not the Ministry of Justice as in Liberian and probably the United States.

So, if there were ever any standardized pattern, perhaps it was the INTERPOL, but this organization has long since been undermined by the Big Powers who have taken the international law into their own hands to kidnap and even carry out summary executions outside their borders. Another thing these Powers may have in common, too, is that they have relegated some functions (borders, passenger search at airport, etc.) of their security apparatus to private security firms – but this is meanly for budgetary reasons, to cut down the civil service, and not for standardization with anybody.

So frankly, this government still does not get it that Liberians can not be taking continuously for a ride or as ignoramuses. Or as I suspect, this quick-fix reform may be another manoeuvre to beg partners and maintain Liberia as a permanent protectorate of the UN.  But while this judgment could be wrong, here are some leads to an ideal reform.

Leads To An Ideal Reform
First, a Legislative commission should be established, and this commission should mandate the Governance Commission (it drafted the National Security Strategy document, 2008) to do a full assessment of the entire national security apparatus (manpower, performance, salaries, logistics, leadership, financial support, etc, etc).

But if the research by Dr. Weh-Dorliae was commissioned by the GC, then the semi-autonomous status is not a solution to its major findings ( LNP infested with ex-combatant recruits, badly paid, inadequate financial support, lacks logistics, low morale and no public confidence) –all this in the midst of massive poverty and a minority living it high?

In other words, leaving such a vital security organization under such condition to be 50% on its own and changing titles or nomenclatures only to satisfy the whims and caprices of the “partners” - is an absolute madness and a license for chaos. In this crucial period of our national existence, we must obligate our government to shoulder its fullest financial responsibility and take total control of the entire national security apparatus.

Of course then the solution to the other thorny problems could be easier – to begin with the mass ex-combatant recruits. Do you purge the LNP of these elements or embark upon an internal continuous training program (without any input from UNMIL, but only Liberian professionals)?

I opt for a vigorous internal continuous training program. I believe these young men and women could become formidable cops if only their minds were properly worked psychologically, and their pay-checks were also decent.     You know, the Liberian society has changed for the worst, not only by the civil war, but also by a prolong occupation by foreign military forces and the invasion of regional immigrants. And these ex-combatants of young men and women have been at the epicentre (and still are) of this social transformation. They know not only every corner of Liberia, but also they are champions of the unimaginable trans- regional porous borders activities. Thus a serious government should make all efforts for their genuine integration into every professional sphere of the nation.

But the LNP will not accomplish its integration and professionalization task without the National Police Academy. And as I have repeated elsewhere, this institution must be overhauled and brought to the highest of standard. The Academy has had some of the most qualified and discipline professionals that are still around today.

Next, the police lacks morale and public confidence. When the morale is high - automatically, there is confidence. But the people will not have confidence in the police unless the police takes confidence in itself. That is my professional axiom.

But from the day UNMIL unilaterally dismantled our entire national security apparatus to start anew, coined the title “Inspector General” on our police, and a first female Inspector General was installed - the new LNP has never had morale nor self-confidence. Since then the LNP has been plagued with controversies, internal strives and dismissals. So that no amount of financial support or reforms would fully be effective unless the entire LNP leadership is also scrutinized scrupulously.
Well, as one commentator rightly pointed out, “our voices are hoarse trying to advice this government, but to no avail”. True, but we will persevere as our democratic, national obligation.

sylvester Moses
Thanks, James, your topic and analysis said it all. The scrambling indicates that Security Sector Reform (SSR) failed. Nonetheless, the failure isn’t for lack of trying or support by the UN, rather it’s due to short -sighted self – interested advices downloaded on EJS by smart alecks who thought that putting square pegs in round holes of Liberia’s post – war security sector administration would be a panacea. Amazingly, that presumption ignored a stated fact: “UN considers that security sectors usually include structures, institutions, and personnel responsible for the management, provision and oversight of security”. Unfortunately, our security sector was shoved into the hands of mostly well – connected individuals imbued with the false notion that some so – called foreign experts would do their rational thinking and heavy lifting.

Unmistakably, what’s needed then and now boils down to “restoring confidence” for which donor countries/ the UN funded the Governance Commission, and Security Sector Reform. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t really pan out. The former produced briefs the three branches of government more often than not ignored (for example, it took years for the Code of Conduct to be approved by a cynical legislators). And that SSR was a disappointment is underscored by the request for a whopping $90 million “to train security”. But restoring confidence presupposed an effective ethical governance that should’ve been no – brainer in a young democracy led by a very educated, highly respected, and unbelievably energetic president. That despite the death toll of Ebola, overprotectiveness of family and friends is unarguably the hubristic flaw hindering not only her legacy, but reconciliation, and shared progress is the tragicomedy being enacted before a front row disapproving public, including a dismayed and bemused global audience.

Frankly, Liberia’s entire post conflict recovery process - from Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) to the TRC recommendations– wasn’t comprehensively carried out. First, that guns are believed to be in the hands of former fighters signals that “disarmament” simply went through the motions. Second, “demoblilization” was torpedoed by ex – combatants getting in the very security sector without undergoing full rehabilitative procedures necessary for reentry into civil society. Third, “reintegration” was meant to focus on job training and providing wages for ex – combatants, so why are thousands of unprepared young people roaming Monrovia aimlessly? And, fourth, the TRC report was never debated in the Legislature; seemingly, legislators behaved like it was a court verdict instead of proposals from a commission without judiciary powers.

To sum, a “quick – fix” can impress a vested political class, yet unwisely dangerous. One doesn’t plaster band aid on a festering sore foot; it isn’t going to heal, and amputation to save life will be inevitable. If we’re serious about reforms, we should be restoring citizens’ trust in governance, and public confidence in security sector performance. For instance, there’re highly trained and experienced under sixty yrs. ex - law enforcement officers outside Liberia that ought to be vetted and rehired. Reading books alone may result in efficiency at some professions, but the security sector needs capable and experienced supervisory and managerial staff. Our leaders mustn’t let pride and political jockeying becloud reasoning germane to positive long term peace. Because when warring factions have enormous sway in some counties, it suggests those constituencies suspect that the vaunted “peace” is simply smokescreen, so they obey their former perceived protectors. Once again, thanks James, you got me entranced, my friend.

sylvester Moses at 01:02PM, 2015/09/16.
Great insightful piece
Garblejay at 04:29PM, 2015/09/19.
Very good insight Mr. Thomas-Queh. This government is reactionary and not visionary! Their woeful neglect of this most important institute for nearly 10 years is shameful and very embarrassing. This is a perfect example of the dependency syndrome that has doomed and Will continue to otherwise doom this nation. This president has constantly led from behind, and never from the front. These Legislators better awaken and realize that this President is leading the country's national security towards a potentially self-destructive future with these so called reforms.
Wallo at 07:49PM, 2015/09/22.
Col. Varlee M. Keita (Retired)
Very little public discussion of what crime is and understanding of why crime takes place can be found in Liberia. Without understanding what "produces" crime in society how can any intervention like LNP reform have an impact on it? The legal approach to crime in Liberia, is interested in the very limited focus on the exact point where crime is defined as simply a violation of a (written) law). In this sense, any jurisprudence system (of the government of Liberia) views the violation of the law as a conflict that now needs to be settled between the violator (an individual or a corporate entity) and the violated entity (other individuals, corporate entities, the state). Here crime is viewed as a specific behavior that needs to be reacted to, punished and hopefully deterred. Reasons for committing the crime may be used later in legal procedures when sentencing takes into consideration various mitigating circumstances. However, beyond this relatively narrow focus it is fair to state that crime is a societal product that is a most difficult task that requires a comprehensive - not a patchwork - approach of a very large magnitude. Community policing seems to offer the appropriate rhetoric and conceptualization, and bears a promise for a better future. However, it risks the danger of its self-demise if there will be no insistence on a better understanding of the causes for crime and on fully implementing a comprehensive policy.
Other than counting crimes (as they are reported) and offering dubious ranking systems, there is little public discussion of the underlying causes of crime. There is also very little offering of a justification or rationale for why a certain (policing or other) strategy will reduce crime. Community policing, if taken seriously, can offer such a comprehensive approach to reduce crime. Within this strategy, law enforcement acts as a catalyst in a process that changes itself, other social service agencies and the community, simultaneously. Considering the fact that about 80% of police activity and response to calls is non-criminal in nature and that police can do very little to prevent a crime that is about to happen, the discussion then has to focus on a more long-term, proactive approach. This stems from the very simply fact that crime is produced by societal forces that are non-stop-able by police. This is true both about the nature of crime (i.e., such as in crimes of passion) and the volume of crime and its economic appeal (i.e., drug use, prostitution). If this premise is acceptable then its derivative is to look at social control issues as encompassing more than formal law enforcement. Rather, normative behavior, evasion of norms, violation of laws and the forces that produce (or could minimize) them should be the focus of any policy with reasonable chances for success.
Any policing policy that adopts proactive planning assumes that intervention needs to be targeted to effectively reduce the amount of crime produced in (and by) the community. Until rhetoric about community policing appeared in law enforcement circles in the early 1980s, it had been assumed that crime control is the sole responsibility of police. This was particularly emphasized during the "professional period" of the policing movement in the U.S. which itself developed out of a reaction to police brutality and corruption because of the sense of it being too close to the community. However, with police professionalism came along the distancing of police from the community and thus the loss of valuable intelligence and the necessary contacts that breed trust and positive relationship.
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