Alison Decker is a first-year international development student at SAIS and an editor of SAIS Perspectives. 

 At an event in February, the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) launched a new analytical framework that improves the process for promoting sustainable institutional law enforcement development (SILED).  ICITAP invited SAIS students to learn about the rollout and its implications for sustainable institutional development.

As an office in the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice, ICITAP works with the Department of State, USAID, and the Department of Defense to develop foreign law enforcement structures that protect human rights, combat corruption, and reduce the threat of transnational crime and terrorism. Under the new framework, Sustainable Institutional Law Enforcement Development (SILED), ICITAP will work in partnership with host-country law enforcement organizations to strengthen capacity, their ability to effectively serve citizens, and their respect for human rights.

According to ICITAP’s newly launched report, simply training and equipping foreign law enforcement agencies is insufficient—“akin to buying expensive chandeliers for a mansion before its foundation has been built.” Instead, SILED requires ICITAP, host-country police, and government officials to work in close partnership with a model of “listen first, talk last.”

The SILED model includes several phases, including conducting a crime threat analysis in the host country, examining the responsibilities of law enforcement officers and implementing a training needs analysis to look at the type of training police personnel currently receive and what additional training is needed. Ultimately, ICITAP hopes that trainings led by the SILED model will foster local ownership of the law enforcement institution and procedures, as well as sustainable relationships between law enforcement and the community. 

But what does this actually look like in practice? The ICITAP publication provides case studies of seven ICITAP programs and analyzes how sustainable institutional development was promoted in each country.

To create a partnership between ICITAP and the Bangladeshi police force, ICITAP collaborated with them to develop a basic community outreach strategy.  Aiming to improve citizen-police relations, ICITAP launched a three-year community outreach program to shift the Bangladeshi police’s implementation of community policing away from a short-term, project-based model to a management philosophy in which police and citizens work cohesively to combat and prevent crime and other community problems. To create the partnership, officers from the Portland (Oregon) Police Bureau—where there is a large Bangladeshi diaspora, and which had implemented successful community policing projects—traveled to Bangladesh.

Over the course of three years, 148 Portland officers traveled to Bangladesh, and taught a community policing course at the site of the Bangladesh National Police Academy that emphasized the importance of creating a relationship with the community.  In contrast to previous trainings, the ones conducted by the Portland officers aimed to foster increased legitimacy and accountability between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they serve. Early trainings in this series covered basic policing skills—equipping the Bangladesh police offers to respond to citizens’ needs. And to normalize police-citizen communication, Portland officers included immersion exercises in their trainings. Bangladeshi police were required to spend time in communities interacting with citizens on a personal level. Officers trained at the Bangladesh Police Academy were encouraged, for the first time, to leave the confines of the academy and interact with citizens in the nearby town. For example, Portland police officers worked with Bangladeshi police officers to implement a “Just Say Hi” campaign, in which officers were simply encouraged to say hello to citizens as they passed. Though citizens were skeptical at first, officers persisted. Slowly, more communication between the actors became the norm. As the Bangladeshi police became more effective in their communities, they increased their legitimacy with their constituents. Citizens began to report more crimes and provide information to police.

By conducting needs assessments in the community—one of SILED’s new, key mechanisms—the Portland teams could determine the highest-priority areas of training. For example, in 2013, upon request, Portland officers provided arson investigation courses to police and firefighters in response to the 2012 Dhaka factory fire that killed 112 people. Bangladeshi police officers also developed stronger partnerships with local government agencies to address community-specific needs, like improving lighting in poorly lit areas in order to deter criminal activities.

The trainings also shifted their emphasis within the overarching policing structure, placing a stronger emphasis on working with junior and mid-level officers. ICITAP had found that these younger officers were less likely to receive the extensive benefits and political favors that senior-level officers do. Ultimately, ICITAP’s hope was that by strengthening the capacity of younger officers, management throughout the years might improve and the trainings might prove more sustainable.

Where the program was implemented, crime has decreased—one Bangladeshi police commander who attended ICITAP training courses, for example, reported a 35 percent decrease in crime in his division. ICITAP is using the Bangladesh case study as an example of what sustainable development looks like in practice, and hopes to improve on this process with the SILED framework.

As an overarching framework, SILED is an important step to highlight the importance of institutional reform in law enforcement, and in using partnerships as a mode of international development. The more thorough needs assessment, coupled with an emphasis on community policing, are important first steps towards strengthening law enforcement institutions in a way that is sustainable and inclusive. The SILED approach, while not wholly transformational, takes a hard look at current practices in the sector and is an important first step towards better relationships between the US, developing-country law enforcement agencies, and the communities that they serve.