Somalia would benefit substantially from police reform, especially one that adopts a civil policing system where officers work for the people rather than the state, and perform their job duties in an impartial, ethical, and professional manner.
The nation’s inherited military-style policing system is flawed, and efforts to restore the old system have derailed, as the current police force is markedly disorganized. The system is outdated and simply out of touch with what the Somali population needs. Not only do members of the Somali Police Force (SPF) lack transparency, but they are also paid little and given minimal educational and training opportunities. In addition, the SPF works regularly with international agencies when it ought to be self-sufficient. The system is in dire need of reform.
To truly understand the complexity of the Somali policing system, one must examine its history. The Police Corps of Somalia was the product of forces the British and Italians employed during the colonial period. When Somalia gained independence in 1960, SPF was created as a national law enforcement entity jointly run by the Police Corps of Somalia and the British Somaliland Scouts. Officials also organized a mobile group called the Daraawiishta Booliska, which was meant to keep order in the nation’s rural areas. The group is now defunct.
The SPF was an official branch of the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) until 1991, when Mohamed Siad Barre, former president of Somalia and SNAF commander-in-chief, was overthrown. (Today, the SPF is still part of the armed forces.) Barre, like many other military rulers of the past and present, wanted to consolidate power throughout the nation; to this day the SPF answers to the state rather than the public.
In short, Somalia is grappling with a centralized, top-down, government-controlled military policing style that does little to benefit the public. While with the help of generous international donors and the new Somali civilian governments—there have been four in the past 10 years— have begun the process of rebuilding the nation’s police force, the SPF is still dysfunctional and in many ways invisible.
Where the SPF Falls Short
The SPF hasn’t undergone reform to the degree Somalis had hoped. As Somalia’s main law enforcement body, the SPF has a limited presence outside Mogadishu, the nation’s capital city of about 3 million people—and even in Mogadishu, it has minimal control because the National Intelligence Service Agency (NISA) executes various policing functions.
The SPF struggles with insufficient policies and procedures, resources and infrastructure, as well as oversight and transparency. As such, the force must aim for better-trained officers, specialized and ethical police, and greater accountability. Sixty-percent of SPF’s 6,800 officers are above the rank of officer, and there is no structure or hierarchy in place to protect public interest and safety. In addition, low salaries and inconsistent pay leave members of the SPF
dependent on the government politicians; and as a result, less inclined to serve the public. Indeed, some police officers are paid less than Somali housemaids. The force also relies heavily on international support to supply equipment, training, and salaries; to be truly effective, however, the SPF ought to be self-sufficient.
In his “Peelian Principles,” Sir Robert Peel dictated that an ethical police force must consist of neutral civilians, cooperate with the public and remain impartial to the government. And yet, in Somalia, the police force is in large part a military force simply performing certain police duties. The SPF is entirely lacking in structure, authority, education, and leadership—areas where reform is needed most.