Vincent Dzakpata recounts his experiences as the United Nations Police chief of staff in the U.N. Integrated Office in Sierra Leone. He was brought in to help build the capacity of the Sierra Leone police service and improve professionalism in preparation for the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections. Dzakpata identifies some of the major obstacles that reformers in the country faced, including a lack of motivation and commitment among officers and their reluctance to take ownership of proposed reforms. Another major issue was poverty. Many of the members of the Sierra Leone police were under severe financial pressure, to the point that it inhibited their ability to perform their jobs. The officers, particularly those of the unarmed general policing unit, often lacked the self-confidence required to effectively do their jobs; some claimed that northerners tended to be favored in the system. Dzakpata maintains the importance of improving the self-regulation mechanisms within the police force, as well as the expansion of the mechanisms in place for external regulation, including the Complaints Disciplinary Internal Investigations Department, which he commends as having helped restore public trust in the Sierra Leone police. He suggests that reforms likely would have achieved greater success and permanance if the U.N. had the authority to take disciplinary action against state officers who resisted change.
At the time of this interview, Vincent Dzakpata was the United Nations Police chief of staff in the U.N. Integrated Office in Sierra Leone. After leaving teacher training college, he joined the police force in his native Ghana for a number of years, working in many departments including criminal investigations and operations, and eventually served as both a divisional and regional police commander. Dzakpata’s first experience with international policing came with his 1997 deployment to Bosnia, where he served as a district human rights officer and later as a district elections officer. He was deployed to Sierra Leone in 2006, initially as the U.N. police adviser on professional standards and eventually as the chief of staff of the U.N. police.