One of the challenges facing police organizations is the need to uphold the highest standards of professionalism in an increasingly demanding society. This means that the police must ensure that its recruitment system attracts the very best candidates who will meet the needs of the communities they are mandated to serve.
Anyone who has participated in the recruitment process for the police will tell you that the exercise is difficult – but not impossible. On the other hand, a candidate who has successfully passed the police recruitment process will tell you that the entry written or oral exam is not the most difficult of professional exams.
However, it is common knowledge that, over and above the written and oral exams, and due to the demands placed on the police force, the recruitment system is designed to attract young men and women of the highest caliber, integrity, judgment and appropriate behaviors and attitudes.
Officers must possess all these qualities in sufficient measure, because a predominance of one at the expense of others may not help the police. And for these very qualities, the Rwanda National Police (RNP) sets the bar high enough. The question is: how do the police certain that the recruited individual has the said qualities?
First, the candidate must have the will and desire to protect and serve the community. During one selection exercise, a senior police officer lamented that gone are the days when we had people who “live to work” because, he said, these have effectively been replaced by a generation of people who largely “work to live”. He added that it is a shame today’s recruiting techniques must stress salary, benefits and so on, in order to attract the best of the best.
The police have specialist fields with intellectually demanding tasks that require the greatest intellectual ability. However, human nature dictates that the highly proficient individuals would seek to work for companies and institutions where the prospects for a very good pay are certain. You will also find officials of big and high paying establishments seated at every university graduation ceremony, ready to strike a deal with first class with honors graduates.
Paradoxically, the demand on police comes from the public, including the very establishments that attract first class students, who expect quality service delivery that sometimes requires the intellectual ability of a high order. It is obvious that with quality police service, the public will have a greater degree of protection. Deterrence and therefore prevention of crime will be greater and development will be guaranteed.
Police officers exercise immense authority and power and their tasks require the officer’s discretion. Police discretion is the “The opportunity of law enforcement officers to exercise choice in their daily activities”. More often than not, police work involves issues that need to be solved in practical ways, and not situations requiring high academic knowledge. The police, therefore, needs to recruit someone who will act fairly, consistently and proportionately in such circumstances.
A classic example of police discretion is when a traffic officer stops an over-speeding driver without a driver’s license, and is a mother taking a child to the hospital. Over-speeding and no driver’s license! This is normally a matter of great interest for a traffic officer. How long should it take the officer to determine whether the driver’s story is genuine? Will the officer consider allowing the driver to take the sick child to the hospital and giving a ticket later? Or will he quickly issue a warning and let the mother take the child to the hospital? Now, imagine that the police are not to stop drivers hurrying to the hospital with sick children; how often shall we see drivers abusing this? In this kind of situation, the officer will act using his own judgment and conscience – police discretion.
Some people would argue that the principle objective of police recruitment process should be to simply identify the candidate’s potential, as skills can be taught. Granted! But some attributes are difficult to teach if they are not already instilled in a person. What’s more, you do not easily determine this potential when conducting a written or a ten-minute oral interview for applicants. This is where the challenge lies for a police recruitment system which seeks to attract the candidates who are proficient in all the above respects.
The good news is, RNP has very reliable partners in crime prevention but also in recruitment for the police. These are Police Ambassadors, Youth Volunteers in Community Policing (YVCP), and Community Policing Committees (CPCs) among others, who have a vision of contributing to socio-economic development by identifying, fighting and preventing crime. The applicant pool for the RNP is largely sufficient, courtesy of the tremendous work done by the above RNP partners.
The other exciting scheme within RNP, which takes the “career pipeline” approach, is a programme ran at the National Police College (NPC) that ties the police training into the higher education system. This is done in collaboration with the University of Rwanda. Qualified applicants, with secondary education, undergo a four-year training program for police officers accredited so that they graduate with a degree. The NPC model stresses classroom theory, field training and aims at integrating theory and practice during the final year.
All-in-all, most police recruitment systems are designed in a way to attract the very best candidates. However, the extent to which the system attracts qualified candidates who think of police work as a calling, and not simply as a job, is still a challenge. The role of the public in identifying such candidates who will deliver quality police services cannot be over-emphasized. The police can be blamed for not laying strategies to work with the public in this effort, but not for doing it alone in the absence of this indispensable partnership.
The writer is the Commissioner for Training in Rwanda National Police