Community-Oriented Policing in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is both multicultural and multiethnic. The country’s most prominent groups are Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs, but many minority groups also inhabit the country. BiH’s civil war of the early 1990s left at least 114,000 fatalities, caused 900,000 people to become refugees in neighboring countries, and internally displaced 1.3 million. Although more than two decades have passed since the civil war ended, the functionality of the government in BiH is still fragile and inefficient. This is in part down to conflicting interests of the numerous ethnic groups, along with BiH’s complicated system of government. BiH has several aggravating factors for criminality and human insecurity, most notably high poverty and unemployment.

In 2007, the BiH Ministry of Security adopted the “Strategy for Community-Based Policing”. It mainly promotes partnership between the police and the community. The aim of the initiative was for communities and the police to work together to identify problems such as crime, drugs, and antisocial behavior. This initiative has shown positive results in at least one respect – surveys signal that the police are now considered more trustworthy by the general population of BiH. There have also been at least two other attempts at implementing a community policing approach – one in Zepce and one in Prijedor, where local communities meet the police to discuss problems. The concept of community policing in BiH is still relatively new, being introduced by the UN International Task Police Force after the civil war and has so far, not been entirely successful. This is partly because of corruption, the complex government system, and lack of political unity and clear leadership.

Perceptions of Security and Insecurity
When it comes to perceptions about security and insecurity in BiH, its recent history must be considered. The civil war largely targeted specific ethnicities. Subsequently, this resulted in a loss of ethnic diversity. It is no surprise then, that different ethnicities within BiH have differing perceptions of security. For example, if the individual is part of the ethnic majority (Serbians) he or she probably feels considerably more safe than if they belong to a minority, or if they are returning from being in exile. Other forms of perceived insecurity in BiH include the high rate of unemployment – 22% in 2013. It is also worth noting that societal exclusion, in any form, is another way insecurity is experienced in BiH. Data shows that as much as 50% of the population are excluded in some way. Vulnerable groups are at greater risk of exclusion. These include women, children, ethnic minorities, internally displaced people, Roma, the elderly, youth, and people with disabilities. Finally, corruption and nepotism, both within the government and within the police force, are problems that make citizens feel unsafe. Citizens often fear being disregarded or ignored if they report a crime, or being placed in danger for doing so.

Security Providers
BiH’s complicated government and political system means an equally divided and complex police and judicial system. BiH has four judicial systems, fifteen police agencies, and one Intelligence-Security Agency. However, after the civil war ended, several international organizations carried out criminal justice and police reforms between 1995 and 2002, which significantly aided the police forces in BiH. Despite their work, however, reports suggest that local police are still not effective, most likely because of the many factors that hinder successful implementation of COP in BiH. Nonetheless, the help BiH has received from international organizations has placed it high in terms of community policing initiatives when compared to similar and nearby countries.

Current Status of Community-Oriented Policing
Thanks to several international actors who have aided BiH since the end of the civil war, the country is ahead of neighboring nations in terms of community-oriented policing strategies. Positive results are being observed, such as improved confidence in the local police forces. Nonetheless, there is still much work to be done. The long history of corruption and partisan police forces in BiH is still present. Thus, continuous effort is required to build public trust in the overall police institution, as opposed to just the local police forces.

Source: ICT4COP Research, NMBU

Photo: Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Photo credit: Neil Davey

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