In most Central Asian countries, relations between citizens and the police are often tense. In Kyrgyzstan, they reached a low point in March last year when police in the town of Aksy opened fire on peaceful demonstrators protesting the arrest of a local politician. Five people were killed and 70 injured.
The local police chief and the regional governor were dismissed, but it was never determined who gave the order to open fire. Anger at the manner in which the Kyrgyz authorities handled the situation led to protest marches on Bishkek.
It is against this background that the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry and the government have signed with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) an agreement to bring in a team of international police experts to improve police methods of crowd control and advise on how police can develop better relations with the community in which they work. The agreement was signed today in Bishkek by Kygryz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev and the head of the OSCE center in Bishkek, Aydin Idil.
The OSCE will also help create a national information system to help criminal investigations and a special phone number in Bishkek which people can call in an emergency.
Some OSCE officials are already in Bishkek, including a Russian police officer and a woman officer from the French gendarmerie.
Initially the program will be limited to the Pervomaiskii police district of Bishkek. Once that is running efficiently it will be expanded to other areas.
The initial 18-month program will cost about 4 million euros, of which nearly 2 million will be spent on strengthening the capacity of the police to manage public disorder and prevent conflict.
Another half-million will be spent on the national information system for crime investigators. The OSCE has also allocated nearly 300,000 euros to train police in Bishkek, Osh, and other areas to work with dogs trained to detect drugs to combat drug smuggling from Afghanistan.
But the OSCE's senior police adviser, Richard Monk, told RFE/RL the most important task is to create what he called a "constructive partnership" between the police and the population.
Monk is a former senior officer at London's Scotland Yard and in 1998 was appointed by the United Nations as the head of the international police task force in Bosnia. He has also advised the OSCE's other police-training operations in Georgia, Macedonia, Serbia, and other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
He said experience shows that good relations between the police and the local community cuts down on crime and also reduces the likelihood of peaceful protests turning violent. He said it was important that the international police officers chosen by the OSCE to run the project should have a credible background that can earn the respect of the Kyrgyz police.
"If we are to have any sort of influence over the [Kygryz] police, we've got to go in and be credible as police officers who can actually help them with crime. Then [help them] develop a relationship with the public. Because if you can do that, you'll do something about crime as well -- you will get better information from the public," Monk said.
In the Pervomaiskii district, the OSCE wants to establish a new service of community inspectors by merging the patrol service and the neighborhood-inspectors' service. Monk said, "Their job description will be revised to focus on direct contact with the population and provision of services to the population." The objective is to encourage the population to take a greater interest in crime prevention and to strengthen their partnership with the police.
Two special units for preventing public disorder will be trained in crowd management, negotiating skills, tactics for defusing explosive situations, and what the OSCE calls the use of "less-than-lethal force."
The research center at the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry will also be provided with resources to monitor tensions in society with the goal of predicting and preventing public disorder.
Monk emphasized that the OSCE is not suggesting curbs on the people's right to protest but said the police have to learn how to keep protests peaceful if that is possible. "People have a right to protest; a right to protest peacefully," he said. "[We will say] this is how we suggest you manage that. If violence then occurs, these are the tactics you should use to quell it -- but you use no more force than is necessary to do so, [without] immediately jumping to extreme force."
Monk said he recognizes that the police can feel threatened and turn to violent action because they have not been trained to do otherwise. Often they are afraid that the crowd may wrest their gun away and use it against them or other people.
"At the moment the police don't have any choice between shouting and shooting. All [a police officer has] is an AK-47 and if the mob turns on him and tries to take away his weapon, what on earth is a police officer to do? Because if they do get the weapon they will presumably shoot the police officer and then they can shoot other people. So he is not going to let them have his weapon," Monk said.
He said one thing the OSCE wanted to teach the Kyrgyz police is that they should not take those sort of weapons into a situation where public order was at risk.
Monk has urged Kyrgyzstan to try to increase the police pay, but he acknowledges this is a problem in a country as poor as Kyrgyzstan. Lack of financial resources also explains the lack of modern police technology and equipment. He said he knew of Kyrgyz police officers who used their personal mobile telephones to keep in touch with headquarters and other officers because of the lack of a radio communications system.
The OSCE operation will seek funds to ease this situation. The present programs are being paid for by only six of the 55 member governments and by the European Union.
The OSCE believes it is important that the police be provided with modern communications systems and data-management equipment so it can respond quickly to public needs. One important point in the present seven-point program calls for direct communications to be established with all the district police stations in the capital. Individuals in trouble will be able to call an emergency number to get speedy assistance. This emergency system operates successfully in most Western countries. Establishing the system in Bishkek will cost about 125,000 euros.
Monk acknowledged that some nongovernmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan oppose the OSCE's plans to improve police training and equipment. Those hostile to the police fear that it will only make them more efficient in crushing demonstrations and protests. Last month, Kyrgyz human rights campaigners protested against the police-training program during a visit by OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is also the Dutch foreign minister.
As a result, De Hoop Scheffer has urged that representatives of the NGO community be admitted to meetings of the state commission on police reform. He has also proposed that two members of the NGO community be admitted to the meetings of the OSCE's program committee in Bishkek.
Monk told RFE/RL he also wants to create a forum in Bishkek where NGO representatives can report to the OSCE team on the concerns of the population. He stressed that the OSCE particularly wanted the NGOs which are hostile to the police training program to join this forum. "Our message to them is that their voice is important," he said. "They need to be heard."
Monk does not believe that the present 18-month mandate for the training scheme is sufficient. "You can't do this sort of work on a short-term basis," he said, adding that it usually takes three to five years to be successful. He believes it is important that other Central Asian countries see that the operation in Kyrgyzstan is successful so they will accept similar programs in their own country. Kazakhstan has already contacted Monk to say it wants a similar program and Uzbekistan is considering it.
Asked about his goal for the Kyrgyzstan program, Monk said it was to see cooperation between police and public. "What I hope we'll get to is a situation where the public and the police will be closely cooperating and able to deal with problems as they occur. The police will be able to show the public how to take more steps on its own behalf. But if nothing else, the public will have a confidence in the police as responding to their local needs," he said.
Eurasianet, August 09, 2003