ICT4COP – A global research initiative on Community-Oriented Policing and Post-Conflict Police Reform

Ingrid L.P. Nyborg, Associate Professor, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Department of International Environment and Development Studies

Ingrid Nyborg

Despite considerable investment by the international community, conventional, top—down and militarized approaches to police reform in post-conflict contexts have fallen short. They typically have had a focus on short-term training for fighting militants, don’t prioritize longer-term institution-building, have weak links with communities, and are unable to address the serious deficit of trust in society.  A new focus is needed, but what might this be?​ Could, for example, Community-Oriented Policing (COP) provide an alternative approach to reform in these contexts?

In 2015, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, in Ås, Norway launched a 5-year Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Project, ICT4COP,  to explore just that. Working with a consortium of 15 institutions across the globe, we studied COP reform in 12 post-conflict countries across four continents. We also worked closely with a Police Experts Network, comprising international police advisors, civil society actors and academics working on police reform, who participated in the research from start to finish. Using qualitative and co-productive methods and a common set of research questions, we explored police reform processes at local, national and international levels.  In each of the 12 cases, we looked closely at police-community relations, and how COP might play a role in the building of mutual trust. We considered how police reform is embedded in historical, social and political processes, as well as how it is influenced by international police reform assistance. In this work had a particular focus on the role that information and communication technologies (ICTs) might play in enhancing trust-building between the police and communities.

Our findings revolve around five main themes. The first concerns the gap between understandings of security as state-centered versus people-centered - COP has not been successfully implemented where the police are more of a force for state security rather than a service to communities. The second theme points to the importance of a focus on mutual trust-building in post-conflict societies where trust is in serious deficit – communities must not only trust police, but police must also learn to trust communities. A third set of findings concerns the importance of understanding historical, social and cultural context, and what that would mean for the way police and communities interact – a history of police violence and the historical marginalization of certain parts of the population would require specific attention in COP. A fourth theme in the research concerns the ways in which COP addresses gender and youth issues – understandings of gender remain oversimplified and under addressed, and youth are all too often seen as a security threat rather than a resource. A fifth area of focus has been on the limits as well as the possibilities of using ICT to help build trust – we have found in all of the contexts that while the risks of misuse of information by unaccountable police are high, there are nevertheless safe ways in which ICTs can be used to build competence and enhance trust when they complement positive face-to face interaction.  Overall, the implementation of COP has been quite challenging in these contexts.  Nevertheless, it was also clear in all the cases that COP was indeed an important and necessary direction for police reform, and that it was worth the effort to improve its design and implementation based on a greater focus on civil society participation.

All of these themes are discussed in detail both the terms of each case, and in comparison. The results have been published as academic articles, policy briefs and digital stories, and our website includes an e-Handbook on COP for use by civil society, policymakers and police interested in working with police-community relations, and a link to our eLearning module on international policing assistance.