Retired British police officer Keith Biddle recounts lessons learned from working on police reform programs in diverse contexts, including in Sierra Leone, where he headed the police force from 1999 to 2004, and in Somalia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Biddle discusses the challenges of effective information gathering in police force vetting and recruitment. He emphasizes that recruitment is a community- and school-based process that should not be rushed. He goes on to discuss his experience in Sierra Leone in determining whether to recruit rebels into the police force and describes the types of challenges countries have faced in building more professional and meritocratic police forces. Next, Biddle discusses the importance of effective organizational structures to lead the police and cautions that efforts to recruit new talent may be futile to the extent that new officers enter a corrupt structure with the “wrong ethos.” Training programs, he states, should be developed in-house, with regard to context and existing skills, knowledge, and staff capacity, and include topics such as human rights, anti-corruption, and enforcement standards. Effectively combating corruption, Biddle posits, requires making the police vocation “valuable” in terms of reputation and fringe benefits. Ultimately, Biddle notes, police reform is “part of good governance” and must receive support from the highest levels of government. While police reform may be costly, he concludes, post-conflict countries cannot be expected to more forward without sustainable and effective police forces.
At the time of this interview, Keith Biddle was a consultant on police reform efforts in Africa and a retired officer of the British police. He became involved in international police reform in 1994 as a member of the British police force, in which capacity he served as deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police and later as assistant inspector of the Constabulary in the Home Office. In 1994, he became the policing adviser to South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission in advance of Nelson Mandela’s election. Following his work in South Africa, Biddle began to work with the U.K. Department for International Development on issues involving police reform, including in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Namibia and South Africa. Between 1999 and 2004, while working with the United Nations under DFID, Biddle headed the police force in Sierra Leone. He subsequently worked on police reform projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, and continued to be involved in police reform efforts in Africa.