Australian Commissioner notes challenges facing police in emerging democracies

Commissioner of Police for Western Australia Karl O’Callaghan delivered a lecture to police officers this morning on the challenges facing police forces in emerging democracies.

O’Callaghan – who oversees a force of more than 5,800 officers – explained that the growth of democracy meant the need for greater accountability and openness within the police force.

“As democracy emerges, the media will become more interested in what you do – the media will want to ask more questions about what you do,” he noted.

“That can be really challenging, and it’s still challenging for me after ten years as commissioner in Western Australia.”

“What we see in the Maldives is still changes of instability, so governments have changed quite a bit in the last ten years and that has an impact on your executive and your command.”

Mutinying police officers were involved in the overthrow of the Maldivian Democratic Party government in February 2012, later being found by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) to have used “excessive” and “discriminatory” force in a “brutal” crackdown against MDP supporters.

A subsequent Commonwealth-led inquiry into events called for investigation of acts of police brutality as well as recommending “immediate steps” to improve the performance of a number of state institutions, including the police and the HRCM.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil told the Majlis last August that five cases concerning police brutality on February 8 were ongoing, after the Police Intergrity Commission had recommended 45 officers be investigated.

Western Australia’s police force has been working with Maldivian authorities since 2006, assisting with the transition of the National Security Services into the Maldives Police Services and the Maldives National Defence Force.

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed has also thanked O’Callaghan during his visit for the help of the Western Australia police, as well as giving details of his owe force’s community outreach work.

Scholarship opportunities were launched by the University of Western Sydney (UWS) last year promising Maldivian police officers three-year doctoral research courses to increase the capacity of the Maldivian police.

“In the beginning it’s hard as, under the old system there was less scrutiny, less accountability, under the new system there will be much more but you’ll get used to it cos you’ll get better at what you do,” O’Callaghan told officers today.

Resource constraints also put pressure on police forces to improve efficiency, he noted, requiring feedback from officers on the ground to improve the service. Moreover, greater performance will result in improved relations with the public and government.

“A democratic police force is impartial but is compassionate,” O’Callaghan told the hundreds of officers in attendance, stressing the importance of the words of Robert Peel – the British reformer credited with creating the modern police force: ‘Police are the people and people are the police’.

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