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


Ulrich Koch

The purpose of this paper is to consider the possible contributions of an intercultural human resource management to the interior security in Europe. Two questions will be addressed: How does cultural difference influence the trans-border cooperation between police agencies? How can the resulting effects be managed in order to prevent conflict and rather take advantage of the cultural difference? The thesis is that an intercultural police management can help to improve police strategies, especially in the fight against international organized crime. Two elements of such an intercultural concept are presented: a joint international training of police officers and the establishement of decentralized, bilateral or international work groups (task force, investigation group).


The purpose of this presentation is to consider how an intercultural human resource management could possibly contribute to the interior security in Europe. Therefore, I will first try to give a working definition of the term ńculture˘ and then I will explain why I want to talk about intercultural problems with respect to the police work in Europe.

Because of the limitations of time, I can only give a short and rough definition of culture: It is a system of orientation that is typical for a nation, society, organization or group. This system of orientation consists of basic, unconscious attitudes, of values, and of the corresponding artifacts. This is what I want to call culture and what is transmitted to new members of a group, organization, society or nation. Culture influences the behavior, communication, acting and judgments of the members of a group in a specific social situation.

The police as an organization has a specific culture, that is their own set of assumptions, rules of behavior and so own. On one hand, this professional culture of the police is similar in most countries because the tasks of the police and the situations of its work are similar. On the other hand, just as legal, political and administrative culture, police culture is embedded in and deeply influenced by the respective national culture. Therefore, police cultures in developing countries differ from that in OECD countries, they are different in African and Asian countries, and so forth.

The very title of our conference already suggests that there are different police cultures within Europe. In particular, the idea of the conference seems to view the police of Central and Eastern Europe as having a sound basis of practical knowledge and dealing with citizens every day in the streets, as opposed to the Western police that has a more theoretical orientation and a scientifically based experience. Anyway, I think that the communist experience in Central and Eastern Europe evidently has led to a police culture and a security culture that today is still different from that in Western countries.


Until the Wall came down 7 years ago, there was not much occasion to talk about intercultural aspects of police work. There was only casual contact with the police in neighboring, friendly countries. But nowadays, with the increasing globalization not only of economy and administration, but also of crime and police work, we act more and more often in intercultural situations. Intercultural situations are social interactions in which the behavior is influenced by the fact that one personĂs assumptions, values and habits encounter differing, more or less unknown assumptions and values of another person with a different cultural background.

This is where an intercultural human resource management should intervene. An intercultural human resource management tries to give both theoretical and practical answers to the following questions:

As to the police cooperation in Europe in particular, this means that we have to consider the rather unconscious differences of basic assumptions, values, experiences, habits and traditions that guide the application of law. My thesis is that the so-called adaptation or homogenization of law is not useful because it meets cultural obstacles. Even if the European countries would stipulate identical police laws, the actual, every-day application of these laws by the police officers in their practical work would differ from one country to the other. The inertia of the Schengen process is a good example. In this as well as in other fields, police cooperation makes less progress than the international cooperation of criminals. Therefore, in order to fight the international, organized crime, we badly need to increase the effectiveness of police cooperation in Europe. Since legal instruments alone do not seem able to meet the new challenges, we should apply an intercultural human resource management. This could serve as an additional instrument that orientates the cross-border police cooperation and renders it more efficient.


Under this perspective, we need to take a closer look at the personnel of the police authorities and of the public prosecutorsĂ office. Their cultural background, that is their basic assumptions, their values and ways of thinking, shape the behavior of the individual as well as the structure, strategy and outward appearance of the particular agency. Ultimately, the efficiency and the effectiveness of their work depend at least partly on this cultural background. Especially important are different ideas of law and its application in the respective cultural context.

For many reasons, the European legal and police cultures are not homogeneous and maybe it is not even a good idea to try to homogenize them. Rather, we have to face the discrepancies in the actual behavior in the application of law caused by the cultural diversity. This is where an intercultural human resource management should intervene. It should draw from the richness and diversity of police cultures in the different countries in order to forge intercultural competencies for an effective work in a spirit of colleagueship, and, by doing this, make possible a creative cooperation within the European Union as well as with its neighboring countries. Therefore, the aim of an intercultural human resource management for the European security administration is not the leveling of cultural differences, but rather the insight into the cultural backgrounds of the actions and behavior of the security officers.

In other words, the attempt to develop an intercultural human resource management is guided by the intention to transcend the merely legal forms of cooperation and to make available additional instruments for the management of cooperation. This conception requires an analysis of the mutuality and the differences of the cultural influences that shape the domain of the interior security in the respective countries. Thus, the possibilities, the deficiencies and the required reach of a training of security officers for the international cooperation become discernible. On these grounds, we can develop management concepts that render compatible different organizational structures and patterns of behavior as well as diverging strategic conceptions. An intercultural human resource management for police cooperation tries to apprehend, develop and coordinate the existing capacities and the applied methods in order to improve cross-border cooperation. Of course, the practical capacities for cooperation and mutual understanding must be improved by language and communication training. But this is only the basis.

Creating personal relationships between police officers from different countries by common training in combination with a strengthening and developing of shared values and motivations will in the long run lead to a set of commonly accepted forms of behavior in the application of law. A European police culture might emerge that guides the cooperation, but does not require the homogenization of national police cultures.


In this view, an intercultural human resource management is a conception that perceives cultural differences rather as a chance than as an obstacle. The aspired use is not only to overcome difficulties of cooperation and to avoid misunderstandings. Rather, a culture- conscious police management gives the opportunity to improve own strategies through intercultural cooperation. The strengths and advantages, but also the weaknesses and flaws of the administrative culture in the own police agency become discernible. The cooperation with police officers from different countries, hence from a different cultural background, gives the chance to recognize the limitations of the own methods and to consider the partnerĂs models and their possible use for the own work.

This kind of inspiring input is especially important for the police in Western countries. Policing in the European Union has become particularly static because there have been no major changes in the perception of police work. Whenever the crime rate rises - which is the case with almost every annual statistical report - there is a call for stricter laws, for an increase of police powers and police personnel. The new qualities of international organized crime, which draws on the newest technical means as well as on traditional networks of ethnic solidarity, are frequently overlooked. In this regard, the common strategy of ńmore of the same!˘ might not prepare us to face the new challenges. It also threatens the fragile balance between civil rights and interior security.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the situation is quite different. Here, the police had to face a radical political change that also profoundly changed its socio-economic environment. In their search for a new orientation and self-understanding, the police in the post-communist countries looked for guidance and help in Western countries - and the West was willing to help. But nowadays, police leaders from Central and Eastern Europe notice that the West is trying to export its own models of policing and to gain influence via financial aid - and they criticize that these intentions do not correspond with the willingness of the West to allow other countries to participate in the institutions of police cooperation in the European Union, that is, above all, in Schengen and Europol.

Yet, my thesis is that this is not really the problem. Seen before the background of unavoidable cultural differences, a unified and homogeneous area of European interior security is not what we can and should aspire. Moreover, by now the police in the young democracies in Central and Eastern Europe seems to be self-confident enough not only to imitate Western models, but to go their own ways. At least some of these countries are well ahead of the European Union: they created organizational structures that distribute responsibility to police officers on all levels of hierarchy, they established a decentralized police that acts close to the needs of the citizens, they introduced new forms of community policing, and so forth. Other countries, of course, still struggle to overcome the military traditions in their police culture.

Therefore, what we need is that the police officers really get to know their colleagues in other countries and closely work together with them. There are two areas of police cooperation where the proposed intercultural human resource management could be particularly helpful: the joint training of police officers from different countries and the trans-border cooperation of small work groups and task forces. In these two areas, a management orientation combined with an awareness of cultural difference could improve strategies by creating intercultural synergies. Elements of change can be introduced into those police agencies, both in East and West, that struggle with a static police culture.


Joint international training mainly aims at preparing police officers, especially police leaders, for international cooperation. They get to know other languages, including the professional terms. They learn about the various legal regulations, the actual proceedings and the working methods of other countriesĂ police. Another purpose of international police training is to introduce new, advanced technologies.

A frequent and very useful effect of joint training programs is that they establish personal relationships between police officers. The trans-border cooperation is considerably facilitated when one is already acquainted personally with the partner one has to deal with on the other side of the frontier. A quick phone call is enough to get useful information, for example about locally or regionally known methods to fight gangs when they are increasing their territory of action into a neighboring country. Even when gangs act across borders, their organization and their methods of work are often based on a network of regional, national and ethnic solidarity. Methods of crime prevention and repression have to take into account this cultural background.

The pedagogic concept of the Central European Police Academy is based on this function of initiating personal relationships and friendships between the trainees - and its popularity amongst police officers depends from this effect. Nevertheless, the Central European Police Academy still lacks an intercultural strategy - an intercultural human resource management takes place only as some kind of by-product. But the idea presented here suggests that the issues of cultural difference have to be addressed in the curriculum; otherwise, there is the risk that prejudices are involuntarily and unconsciously confirmed in the cooperation. Such an affirmation of prejudices might happen because in order to facilitate cooperation, the partners often act according to their mutual stereotypes.

In the future, joint training should prepare police officers for international police cooperation by increasing their understanding of cultural difference and by improving their competencies of intercultural communication. International joint training sessions should also prepare police officers for the intercultural dimension of crime and crime prevention. The cultural background of crime that is organized according to ethnic principles has to be known. The aim of training should be to make available locally or regionally known strategies in the fight against organized crime to the participants from all countries. As much as the crime is going international, police work should develop an international dimension.

This is to say that all police officers have to deal with intercultural problems when the suspected person is foreigner. Competencies of intercultural communication are needed in interrogations, in the work with an interpreter, in investigations about gangs that are organized on the basis of nationality and ethnicity, with respect to culture-bound roles of age and sex groups, and so on. Otherwise, even basic forms of communication risk to fail and existing prejudices on all sides are reinforced.

In urban areas of France, Great Britain and Germany, the daily police work is much complicated by the fact that unprepared police officers have to deal with immigrants and citizens of foreign origin. There is a big deal of heated public discussions, and the police often has to defend itself against over-all accusations of xenophobia and racism.

The Central and Eastern European countries are just starting to acknowledge this intercultural dimension of police work. The trend to ever increasing movements of international migration, even from geographically and culturally very distant countries, gives evidence to the prediction that intercultural problems of police work might occur in these countries, too. The curriculum of joint international training programs should have one section that prepares to this dimension of the intercultural challenge.


At present, the most advanced forms of police cooperation, that is Schengen and Europol, are limited to the European Union and some of its member countries, respectively. Police leaders of Central and Eastern Europe complain about this character of an exclusive Western club and warn us about the risks of raising new Iron Curtains.

Nevertheless, other forms of cooperation can be established. The proposal here is to establish smaller work groups, investigation groups or task forces on a less formal basis. Cooperation could be limited in terms of competence, time period and geographic boundaries. This has two advantages: First, this kind of low-level cooperation does not conflict with the principle of national sovereignty. Second, it intensifies the direct personal interaction between police officers from different nations and with different cultural background, especially when the establishment of such groups is prepared and accompanied by an intercultural training. Thus, effects of synergy can be created. Such decentralized, bilateral or multinational groups are able to develop own, new strategies.

Small, decentralized work groups are an alternative form of police cooperation. In comparison to highly centralized institutions on a merely technical and legal basis, such as Schengen and Europol, they offer greater possibilities of establishing close personal contacts. Smaller, less formal structures of police cooperation can be seen as some kind of experiment. They can be handled flexibly since not the whole process of European integration is in stake.

In a further step, a network of learning, self-organizing groups could be established. To this effect, the institutions and efforts of joint international training should be interlocked with the establishment and the experiences of this kind of work groups. This is basically what the idea of an intercultural human resource management is about. Its purpose is to facilitate the cross-border cooperation as such. But its second, more important purpose is to give an answer to the increasing cultural diversity of our societies and the corresponding new and challenging qualities of crime.

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