The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Curt Taylor Griffiths, Yvon Dandurand and Vivienne Chin

Curt Griffiths teaches in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, Yvon Dandurand is Dean of Research and Industry Liaison, University College of the Fraser Valley, and Vivienne Chin is an international criminal justice consultant. Further information on this article can be obtained at or


In many parts of the world justice and law enforcement institutions are still unable to address basic public safety and human security issues in a fair, effective, credible, and transparent manner. Many systems simply lack a capacity to perform their own basic function. It is important to remember that many states have never had a strong justice and public safety capacity. For them, developing that capacity is difficult and the success of comprehensive reforms to address these challenges is often precarious. They need help, they need good advice, and they need useful tools.

In recent years, globalization has contributed an additional dimension to these challenges. It holds some enticing promises for most countries, but for those unable to adapt quickly to this new reality it also raises the prospect of debilitating social and economic consequences. Globalization, and particularly the emergence and expansion of transnational organized crime and the threat of international terrorism, confront all justice systems with some new and difficult challenges. For states with a relatively weak criminal justice capacity, these challenges can appear almost insurmountable. This, in turn, raises broader questions about the nature and extent of international cooperation in bringing about the required reforms, the effectiveness of existing technical assistance methods and tools, and the measures to be taken to enhance law enforcement reform.

Sustainable reforms are often difficult to deliver. The lack of reliable crime data and the unavailability of data on the performance of the responsible agencies often prevent the development of knowledge-based solutions. The impact of justice reform is rarely evaluated systematically and we therefore have little reliable information on the proven effectiveness of various practices.

In recent years, the efforts of development agencies have been increasingly directed toward the reform of the justice and security sectors. The security system of a country includes its armed forces, police, intelligence services, judicial and correctional institutions, as well as the elected and duly appointed civil authorities responsible for their control and oversight.1 Security system reform is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as those measures “designed to increase partner countries’ ability to meet the range of security needs within their societies in a manner consistent with democratic norms and sound principles of governance, transparency, and the rule of law.”2

The renewed emphasis on public security and justice system reform is partly related to development goals. Justice reforms are fundamental to reducing poverty and achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals3. “Security is … a core government responsibility, necessary for economic and social development and vital for the protection of human rights.”4 Justice and security sector reforms and capacity development have become important parts of national development strategies.

As was noted by the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development, “At a very basic level, the justice sector helps to build a foundation of trust within society, so that people know what to expect from each other and from organizations and thus can interact with each other in productive rather than destructive fashion.”5

In those jurisdictions where law enforcement and the administration of justice are weak, there are often more opportunities for serious crime, corruption and other disruptive activities. In many countries, there is a close relationship between institutional failures in the justice and security sectors and the amount of organized crime activity, drug trafficking, and the breakdown of civil society.6

The Canadian government provides various forms of security sector assistance to development, including policing, on a bilateral and multi-lateral basis. For example, in 2003-2004, Canada, through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission (CICAD) contributed $850,000 for projects, several of which were implemented in the Caribbean region. Canada also provides capacity development assistance through the Military Training Assistance Program and through various law enforcement cooperation initiatives with the RCMP. In recent years, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada has also begun, not without a certain amount of reluctance, to direct some of its development assistance funding to governance projects specifically directed at the justice and security sectors.

In this discussion, we review the issues surrounding the delivery of development assistance in the justice and security sector, with particular reference to assistance to law enforcement and, as well, identify the key factors that have, to date, hindered the effectiveness of these initiatives. The discussion is premised on the authors’ work in the justice and security sectors in a number of regions in the world.

The Challenges of Development Assistance

In many of the countries that request assistance, there are innumerable challenges confronting all facets of the justice and security sectors. The challenges include limited access to justice, and the absence in many jurisdictions of democratically accountable policing and corrections sectors. Moreover, many of the countries are rife with corruption, which makes them vulnerable to transnational criminal organizations and undermines reform efforts.

Despite the well intentioned efforts of Canadian aid agencies and police services, many issues remain unresolved and there is little evidence that reform efforts have resulted in sustainable outcomes. Effective reforms are difficult to deliver. Institutions take time to be developed. Crime prevention, including the prevention of gender-based violence, viable solutions to the issues surrounding youth crime, and the development of a strong foundation of civil society involvement in the justice system have generally remained elusive. More particularly, there is little evidence that specific interventions designed to improve the capacity, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability of the police in developing countries have produced any measurable effects or sustainable outcomes. There are not currently in place the necessary frameworks that would enhance these interventions, nor are there evaluative frameworks for assessing program and training outcomes.

Police Reform

Police reform is an important “point of entry” for security sector reform and is a prerequisite for the establishment of a democratically accountable security sector. In this respect, the police can be a liability and obstacle to efforts to create a civil society and good governance. Peake has recently observed that the process of security system reform should begin with an appreciation of the powerful symbolic effect that positive changes to a police force can have on the public perception of security.7 He has also pointed out that it is important to remember that 1) the police are usually the most visible and immediately present aspect of the security system; 2) the performance of the police is absolutely crucial to the performance and credibility of the rest of the sector; 3) the archaic practices, poor human rights records, outdated methods, and heavy-handed practices of the police add to the public perception of the police as self-serving; 4) the police are often used to control civil disorder at the discretion of the ruling groups; and, 5) the police are in a unique position to provide the foundations for stability, security and confidence in the state.

Since 9/11, the efforts to improve the capacity of countries to address security issues have focused increasingly on the fight against terrorism and other transnational security threats. This has often been to the detriment of projects designed to reform systems of governance and to building institutional and community capacity for a civil society, including policing services. A key issue is the nature and extent of the links that should be established between development assistance and the wars on terrorism and drugs. There is a concern that capacity-building initiatives that focus on external threats may, in part, compromise much-needed reform efforts directed towards the internal justice and security sectors.

Lessons Learned

Following are a number of the lessons learned from the collective experience of police services and agencies engaged in initiatives to provide training and other types of assistance to police forces in developing countries. These should provide the basis for the creation of frameworks for program delivery going forward.

1. The Recipient Jurisdiction

Justice and security reforms involve complex and essentially political processes. The political, ideological, financial, normative, and institutional contexts in which the reform of justice and security (including police) takes place must be taken into account. As well, there are a number of other considerations that should guide specific programmatic initiatives. These include:

  1. Country Readiness: There is considerable diversity among developing countries in terms of their amenability to and readiness for reform assistance. To determine the potential effectiveness of reform initiatives requires that a “country readiness profile” be created that includes an assessment of the political context, the geopolitical situation, and the economic context, and the levels of corruption, among others.
  2. Focus on Governance of the Security Sector: Programming must stress the importance of accountability and transparency in the whole of the justice and security sectors. The tendency of the police and other justice and security agencies to cloak themselves in secrecy and to exclude the participation of civil society must be addressed.
  3. Civil Society Involvement: Broad civil society involvement in the planning and implementation of reforms must be encouraged. It is important to build on processes that represent and engage all members of society. Enabling civil society to organize, advocate, and effect change in all aspects of governance of law enforcement is essential to sustainable development. In the field of law enforcement, the involvement of civil society is a prerequisite to enhanced human security and ongoing respect for human rights and democratic principles. Creating a pro-reform environment, which is grounded not in collective fears but in a respect for democratic values and human rights, is often the most difficult task of all.
  4. Public Ownership: International standards and the experience of other countries are obviously important. Ultimately, however, successful reforms are those over which people have developed a sense of ownership. At the national or local levels, the reform process must be one which builds on the existing strengths of the system and through which local strategies are developed. This would seem to dictate that reforms must be introduced in a manner that makes them relevant to local agendas and timeframes.

2. The Design and Delivery of Reform Initiatives

Implementing reforms in the justice and security sectors, including policing, requires interventions over the long term that will encourage and support cultural, as well as structural, organizational and technological transformation. As Dandurand, Griffiths, and Chin have argued,8 “The manner in which assistance is offered in the justice and security sectors is often as important as the type of assistance offered.”

  1. Capacity Building vs. Technical Assistance : Capacity development involves assistance aimed at reforming organizations and institutions so as to enhance their ability to achieve their goals efficiently and effectively. This extends far beyond providing technical assistance directed at a specific area. Technical assistance tends not to address the broader institutional and political environments and, in itself, will not be sufficient to develop sustainable capacity. It may, in fact, contribute only to the further entrenchment of ineffective and arbitrary justice and policing services. When assistance attempts to address specific security problems in a piecemeal manner, without addressing broader systemic and structural issues, or without sufficient sector-wide buy-in and coordination, such assistance generally fails to improve the capacity, efficiency and governance of the security system.
  2. The Need for a Long-term Approach : Most of the difficulties faced by developing countries in the justice and security sectors, and in policing in particular, are not amenable to short-term inventions. They require changes in culture and attitudes that can occur only over a long period of time. They require institutional and human resource capacity development that would take years, if not decades, to accomplish, even in well-developed and prosperous countries. Security sector reform must, therefore, be viewed as a process that requires long-term persistence.9
  3. Establishing Realistic Benchmarks and Clear Reform Objectives: Even the best-designed reform initiative will fall short of its objectives if it is not planned adequately. It is unrealistic to expect that all of the required changes will occur simultaneously or that the institutional and human resource capacity of a system can be developed overnight. Specific, achievable objectives must be established that hold the best potential for success. Demonstration projects and carefully selected and developed case studies can provide early, visible successes that will increase the momentum of and support for organizational change and reform.
  4. Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation: All justice reform initiatives should include an evaluation component. Independent researchers should conduct these evaluations.

3. Obstacles to Effective Program Delivery and Reform

Even the best-designed program for reform will encounter a myriad of challenges that may significantly compromise the effectiveness and efficacy of the initiative. These include, but certainly are not limited to, the following:

  1. Resistance to Justice Reform : Justice-sector reform in any country is a politically sensitive process. Broad-based public support to reinforce the political will to act is indispensable. The importance of developing a justice sector capacity to support development is not always well understood; however, a review of capacity development initiatives in the justice sector in different regions of the world would reveal that reforms in that sector are difficult to sustain. All too often, specific project initiatives fail to recognize the resistance they are bound to encounter. Efficiencies in the justice and security sectors provide opportunities for corruption and carry benefits for unscrupulous public officials and others. It is naïve to assume that these same officials are highly motivated to reform the very system that provides them with opportunities for illicit gains and other advantages. As Dandurand, Griffiths, and Chin have noted:
    In most developing countries, these sectors are generally not amenable to reform but rather are essentially conservative elements of society that typically offer fierce resistance to any change, particularly when a reform initiative is implemented by parties who are perceived as threatening their power and autonomy under the status quo. 10

    There is among police forces in many developing countries the presence of a strong sub-culture that does not value outside input or influence. These elements are often organizationally and structurally impervious to outside scrutiny and have a very limited view of the extent to which they should be held accountable to civilian authorities.

  2. The Delivery of Training : Training is often a key component of capacity development. In itself, however, training rarely produces appreciable results. It should also be evident that a continued reliance on external “experts” who fly in, deliver a training or development program, and then fly out, does little to build local capacity or effect meaningful change. The same holds true for retired experts who sometimes are not current in their field, lack appropriate knowledge and skills, and have little or no understanding of the cultural, political, social, or economic context in which they are attempting to provide assistance.

    Another approach to capacity development that is not entirely effective is to send selected senior police managers to Canada to attend conferences, seminars and training courses. Officers are often placed in larger classes with students from many countries. In this situation, no one student is afforded class time to have his or her unique issues and questions addressed in any detail or depth and officers from other countries may be reluctant to take the initiative to ask questions and/or to raise issues. In addition, such training often takes place in isolation, meaning that there is no plan, process or support to take the new learning and transfer it back into the officer’s jurisdictional context. Many courses in policing, for example, do not supply pre-course reading materials or activities to prepare the participant for the learning experience. The same holds true after the experience where most students are not supported, equipped or challenged to implement the lessons learned in their home jurisdiction. The only tangible evidence of participation in the training program may be a photo album, a pile of business cards, and fond memories.

  3. The Transferability of Knowledge: The issue of whether, and to what extent, the structures, procedures, and strategies of Canadian policing are transferable to developing countries has received little attention to date. Although participation in training courses and other forums does provide officers from developing countries with access to a network of professional contacts, exposure to leading edge investigative strategies and various technologies, there is often no method or framework within which this new knowledge can be applied in an officer’s police service.

    When someone person returns from training overseas, they commonly find no opportunity or strategy for sharing their new learning amongst their peers or for integrating the knowledge and skills they have gained into the policy and practice of their particular organization or agency. However successful a particular practice or method may be in Canada, it does not follow that it will be useful or effective in a development context. Comparative evaluations of various practices and identification of the conditions and specific features of a response are obviously required.

    As well, few Canadian “experts” involved in development assistance projects have experience in comparative law or comparative analysis of criminal justice systems. In the absence of such expertise, there is a limited ability to distance themselves from familiar methods and processes. As such, they may be poorly equipped to assist police forces in developing countries with solutions that have some potential to be effective in the local context.


There is little doubt that Canadian police services and training facilities can, potentially, play a significant role in the reform of the police in developing countries. The critical question concerns the creation of frameworks for the delivery of effective development assistance to police services that will increase the efficacy and the effectiveness of specific interventions and initiatives and contribute to sustainable reform and capacity-building. To date, development assistance in the justice and security sectors, including the policing area, has not been formulated and implemented on the basis of a comprehensive strategy that utilizes lessons learned and best practices as revealed by ongoing evaluations, and follow up, of specific projects. This has hindered the compilation of case study experiences documenting “best” and “less productive” strategies and the creation of best practice frameworks. To address these deficiencies, there is a need to identify specific programming opportunities in the eligible countries and, as well, to identify those jurisdictions that are most amenable to reform and where there is a higher likelihood of effecting change. In the absence of such initiatives, the attempts of the federal government and Canadian police services to have a long-term, sustainable impact on policing in developing countries will remain an elusive, albeit expensive, goal.


Berry , L., G.E. Curtis, J.N. Gibbs, et al. 2003. Nations Hospitable to Organized Crime and Terrorism. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.

Biebesheimer, C. and J.M. Payne. 2001. IDB Experience in Justice Reform. Washington, D.C.: International Development Bank.

Dandurand, Y., C.T. Griffiths, and V. Chin. 2004. Justice and Security Reform and Development. Discussion Note. Gatineau: Americas Branch, CIDA.

Dandurand. Y., C.T. Griffiths, and V. Chin. 2004. Towards a Programming Framework for Development Assistance in the Justice and Security Sector. Discussion Note. Gatineau: Americas Branch, CIDA.

OECD. 2004. Security Reform and Governance: Policy and Good Practice, DAC Guidelines and Reference Series. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

OECD. 2004a. Policy Brief - Security System Reform and Governance: Policy and Good Practice. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. ( )

Peake, G. 2004. Police Reform. Presented at the Security Network Symposium, Global Facilitation Network for Security Reform, Kingston, Jamaica, April 20-21.

United Nations. 2004. Thematic Discussion on the Rule of Law and Development: The Contribution of Operational Activities in Crime Prevention, Note by the Secretary-General. Thirteenth Session, Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, May 11-20.

End Notes

1. Y. Dandurand, Y., C.T. Griffiths, and V. Chin. 2004. Justice and Security Reform and Development, Discussion Note. Gatineau: Americas Branch, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

2. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Security Reform and Governance: Policy and Good Practice, DAC Guidelines and Reference Series, Paris: 2004, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development .

3. There are eight Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted by the United Nations in September 2000 for achievement by 2015.

4. OECD, Policy Brief - Security System Reform and Governance: Policy and Good Practice, p.7. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2004 ( )

5. Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development, Challenges of Capacity Development: Towards Sustainable Reforms of Caribbean Justice Sector, Volume II, A Diagnostic Assessment. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2000 .

6. L. Berry, G.E. Curtis, J.N. Gibbs, et al, “Nations Hospitable to Organized Crime and Terrorism”, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C: 2003, Library of Congress; United Nations, “Thematic Discussion on the Rule of Law and Development: The Contribution of Operational Activities in Crime Prevention – Note by the Secretary-General”, Thirteenth Session, Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, May 11-20, 2004.

7. G . Peake, “Police Reform”, p.17, presented at the Security Network Symposium, Global Facilitation Network for Security Reform, Kingston, Jamaica, April 20-21, 2004.

8. Y. Dandurand, C. Griffith and V. Chin, Towards a Programming Framework for Development Assistance in the Justice and Security Sector, Discussion Note, p.8, Gatineau: 2004, Americas Branch, CIDA.

9. C. Biebesheimer and J. M. Payne, IDB Experience in Justice Reform, Washington, D.C.: 2001, International Development Bank .

10. Y. Dandurand, C. Griffith and V. Chin, Towards a Programming Framework for Development Assistance in the Justice and Security Sector, p.8.