POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


Gerald W. Lynch

John Jay College is an institution of higher learning focused on criminal justice and law enforcement. It has evolved from a local and regional educational and training resource into a national and international institution of higher education and advanced training. As President of the College, I have been privileged and proud to help guide the fulfillment of this important mandate over the past eighteen years.

We have learned during this time that there is a great deal to gain through the opening of dialogue between criminal justice agencies and law enforcement agencies in particular, across the country and throughout the world. Dialogue not only allows for a sharing of information and for cultural exchange but it also allows for insight into unique perspectives on problems that are common to the human condition. Public safety is certainly an issue of universal concern.

One of the more recent efforts by John Jay College in furthering its goal of enhancing police professionalism and specialized training for law enforcement on an international level has been our involvement in the creation of an instructional program called "Human Dignity and the Police."

This course which helps to provide the practice of policing with a sharpened understanding of human dignity as an innate quality possessed by all human beings. The course stresses the fact that people, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, country or social status are all human beings who have an inherent right to respect, fair treatment and personal dignity. Treatment that the public receives from police officers must reflect these principals.

While these are important premises for the practice of policing in the United States and in every country around the world. In some of the emerging democracies, these premises, tend to be less defined. In those countries where people do not enjoy full liberty and rights, the police and all the people, struggle to strengthen democratic institutions. In some countries, the military and police are one in the same which departs substantially from a model of a civil police which operate in democracies.

The goal of our police training program, "Human Dignity and the Police," is to contribute to the larger effort to help these countries achieve their democratic objectives. We know that one of the major areas which has an influence over the development of institutionalized democracy is law enforcement. This is primarily demonstrated by how police function and how they treat their citizens.

The human dignity course focuses on the fact that police are part of society and that both police and society are mutually dependent. This would suggest that they have to work together which, of course, requires mutual respect and understanding. The course looks at the role that values play in our lives and in our work - the values that are learned long before the beginning of professional careers. For the most part, these values are learned from intimate relationships with families and friends. It is , of course, where empathy, caring, honor, respect, and integrity are learned.

The challenge of the course is to explore these values which shape our decision-making processes, which are common to all people. The next step is to reaffirm their centrality in our daily lives and in our work. The course affords an opportunity for participants to reflect on their experiences and behavior in terms of whether it is consistent with, or conflicts with, this deeper sense of right or wrong. The course recognizes that much of our learned behavior becomes reflective and is difficult to change. The manner in which the authority of police can be used to assault human dignity, if applied in the wrong manner, makes the course a powerful tool for enabling police officers to reassess their roles and to improve upon their effectiveness as professionals.

Since the course deals with many basic moral and philosophical issues of right and wrong, and with the emotional and spiritual nature of human beings, it is taught in a nontraditional manner. Individual and group participation are key components. Great emphasis is placed on the participant's own experiences in defining the concept of human dignity. More specifically, by using group dynamic exercises, role playing scenarios, group discussions, the concept of human dignity is explored through historical and organizational examples. In a sense, the course is self- taught with the instructors providing direction, but with the participants actually training themselves. For example, participants are asked to recall instances in their own lives when they felt their dignity was violated. The discussion moves next from the arsenal experience's of the participants to the more general in terms of how they treat others and what the impacts of such behavior might be keeping in mind the power and authority of the police role.

Discussions include the importance of opening a dialogue with the community, articulating the value system of the police organization, implementing a clearly defined code of conduct, and developing a training program to ensure compliance with policies and procedures designed to protect the dignity of both citizens and police.

The "Human Dignity and Police" course has been a great success and we feel it has met its objectives. Over a four year period, it has been offered to police officers from thirty- one separate countries ranging from Latin and Central America, the Caribbean and Europe. The course has been formally evaluated by the administrators of the course and by the participants. In Jamaica, a subsequent site evaluation revealed that the course sparked a wider interest in human rights among the Jamaican Police and resulted in better treatment of jailed prisoners.

Feedback from each country indicates that the program is successful in moving people past their differences and enabling them to see each other as human beings deserving of respect. In their written evaluations of the course police officers from nations in central and eastern Europe referred to the course as "morally and professionally uplifting." They further indicated that "There were some emotional moments as we discussed the topics that were raised." The report of a more formal evaluation involving face to face evaluation interviews with police officers who participated in the course states:

" Many participants told the interview teams that the course had been a watershed in their own lives. The follow-up by the survey teams were seen as a positive reinforcement of an experience that had left a deep impression in the minds of many who participated, some of whom were still struggling with its significance."

Because of the success of the human dignity training, recognized by ICITAP and by the countries in which we have offered the course, I am pleased to report that John Jay College was invited to join in the new International Law Enforcement training initiative based in Budapest, Hungary. This new police training program for managers of police agencies from countries which comprised the former Soviet Union, begins its eight weeks of training with the human dignity course given by John Jay College.

In the United States and in New York City, the value of such an effort has not been lost. We, as professionals serving the field of criminal justice, know there is work to be done in order to build upon positive relations with the public, especially in the major urban areas in the U.S. so that police , corrections officers, prosecutors and judges and other who work in the criminal justice system understand the diverse and multi-cultural society we live in.

The role of policing carries with it great authority but police must also earn the trust of those they serve. The human dignity course explores the important and frequently difficult question of balance between police authority and public trust. We feel that we are fortunate at John Jay College to have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and clarification of this important social issue.

Table of Contents | Policing and Attitudes Towards Police in Countries in Transition

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