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Policing - Public Safety and Police Service Delivery


Part 1 of the Policing sector of the Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit, produced by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime in close co-operaiton with the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat.


Policing is the most obvious and apparent aspect of the criminal justice system and a well-regarded police service is a prerequisite for the positive perception of justice.

The way in which policing is delivered will depend on a host of variables including the prevailing political and cultural doctrines as well as the social infrastructure and local tradition. Approaches to policing vary between those based on a high level of control, sometimes characterised by confrontation, through to those emphasising the merits of “policing by consent”. The former is usually highly centralised, predominantly reactive, and militaristic in its style. The latter may still be centralised, but will interpret policing as being responsive to local communities in the identification and resolution of policing issues.

In many countries, police agencies will be established under a government ministry and, as a result, it is possible that the highest officers and managers will be political appointees and/or hold ministerial rank. It is also quite possible that they will have had no previous experience of policing.

There will be, in any case, one chief officer presiding over a hierarchy consisting of strong lines of authority with clearly defined roles and responsibility at each level. This will often take the form of a central headquarters with a web of subordinate, locally based branch offices, sometimes called “districts” or “divisions”, emanating from it. The point of delivery for almost all police services, will be the local police station and the organisational culture, attitudes and behaviour of local officers will have a disproportionate effect on the success, or otherwise, of the whole criminal justice system.

In most places, there will not be a single entity with responsibility for enforcing every aspect of the law. There may be several national agencies, organisations or institutions with regional or local agencies offering either complementary or similar coverage. And, even where one national police force exists, there are likely to be additional law enforcement organisations either with specific functions, such as customs, gendarmerie, or border police, or with highly specialised skills, for instance, for dealing with anti-money laundering, national security or forensic science services. In some countries customs officers or border guard may have no powers under the criminal law at all and must hand suspects over to the police as soon as they are apprehended. There may also be a mixture of public and private policing services, where private companies franchise certain functions from the state or from private group interests.