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Human Rights Quarterly 26.2 (2004) 547-552

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Policing Post-Communist Societies: Police-Public Violence, Democratic Policing, and Human Rights, by Niels Uildirks & Piet Van Reenen

The founders of the British Metropolitan Police, Rowan and Mayne, articulated a series of principles which described the relationship of the police to the public they policed almost 200 years ago. These principles are the foundational characteristics of policing in democratic societies. Three of these principles form the underlying premise of the book Policing Post-Communist Societies: Police-Public Violence, Democratic Policing and Human Rights by Drs. Niels Uildirks and Piet Van Reenen:

  1. Legitimacy: To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public approval.
  2. Accountability: To recognize at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence. This notes that police authority in a democratic society is derived from [End Page 547] the people and not from the interests of the "state."
  3. Use of Force: To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

The task set forth in this book is to assess the transformation of police forces in two countries—from, in Marxist regimes, an organ of the state that maintained the autocracy of a small number of community party members, to a social institution that is the product of emergent democratic processes in these post-Communist societies. These countries do not have the luxury of creating police forces from a blank sheet of paper, so the transformation process is a very important issue. Scholars and practitioners need to examine whether these countries can create a force that is embedded in democratic principles.

This book is seminal in that it is the first articulation of the next generation of policing: the emergence of the democratic and human rights model of policing. While the task of the authors is seemingly narrow and well-directed, it must be understood that the police, as a social institution, has been in a constant stage of evolution, with each stage responding to the exigencies of the previous era. These police systems have emerged from different political and social systems. The continental systems historically protected the ruling and propertied class. In the United States, the police were first involved in partisan politics, with policing reflecting political and social interests of the political party in power. This was replaced in the 1950s by the professional model that was then discredited for removing the police from the community they policed. Subsequently, the professional model was replaced with the community-policing model. The development of the British police also reflects a close relationship between urbanization, industrialization and evolving social control systems that exceeded the ability of traditional systems to respond to burgeoning crime problems in growing cities. Most recently, issues of accountability and performance measurement reflecting the local determination of police goals have become a dominant issue in British policing. The emergence of totalitarian states saw the development of increasingly sophisticated methods of state control and the oppression of populations which expressed a desire for the kinds of freedoms found in Western democracies.

With the exception of the military, the police have the potential to become the most coercive instrument of oppression in a society. Because of their intimate knowledge of the people and their community, the police are potentially more threatening than any other social institution. With this extraordinary potential for abuse, the police should...


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