Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Kosovo Police's "focus on citizens"

I just read the story about Captain Teuta Nimanaj, Decan Police Commander - "Kosovo policewoman bringing order to troublesome town" - by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday the 17th of July 2006.

It appears that Captain Nimanaj's "focus on citizens" has succeeded in cutting crime where everyone else has failed, in a place commonly called "the Wild West" for the frequency of violent crime committed by people who seem(ed) beyond the law.

The AFP reported that:
Fighting prejudices as much as crime, Captain Teuta Nimanaj is running the 90-strong police force in this troublesome town [Decan/Decane/Decani] with a wide smile and iron fist.

In an area dubbed the "Wild West" by its own residents, this slim blonde has managed in just nine months to achieve results which proved beyond many of her predecessors.

"There has not been a single high-profile crime or incident since I took the post over," the 30-year-old Nimanaj told AFP in her tidy office in Decane, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the Kosovo capital Pristina.

"There have been ordinary crime cases, but nothing special," she added, smiling.

The crime rate in Decane in the first five months of 2006 was 50 percent down on the same period last year, according to police data.
This is an incredible figure anywhere, but particularly here, where terrorists and gangsters used to operate with impunity.
Nimanaj took up the post of the police commander in Decane, a town of some 60,000 residents, aware of the difficulties in a region still strongly attached to its traditional "clan" structure and conservative attitudes.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since the end of the 1998-1999 war between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists, when NATO's intervention drove out the forces of then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

The 7,000-strong Kosovo Police Service (KPS) is considered one of the most successful projects of the international engagement in the province.
This is a somewhat generous statement (or a damning indictment), despite the UNHCR's (2003: 6) statement that the police "contribute to the freedom of movement", as, on the same page, it accepts that the KPS is "failing to follow up, to identify and prosecute perpetrators or enforce appropriate legal measures", creating "fundamental protection problems".

The International Crisis Group (ICG: 2004: 20) also noted that while, during riots, some police "acquitted themselves bravely, rescuing beleaguered Serbs, Roma and Ashkali", others "stood by as mobs torched houses or physically attacked Serbs" or even "actually joined the rioters", with "at least two incidents in which KPS officers threw petrol bombs".

(The "failure to protect" also been addressed by Human Rights Watch (2004).)
However situated near the borders with Montenegro and Albania, and with the added complication of the traditional customs and codes of behaviour of the family clans, the Decane region has long been a hotspot for the smuggling of weapons, cigarettes and drugs.

A prominent Western think-tank, the International Crisis Group, said in its May 2005 report that "Decane is a tinderbox isolated from the rest of Kosovo."

Nimanaj -- the first woman police commander in Kosovo -- says her recipe for success is a "focus on citizens."

"We had to show to the citizens that, first and foremost, the police respect the rules and expect the citizens to do the same," she said.

"It was necessary to invest much effort and explanation to convince them to cooperate."

One of her initiatives was to introduce patrols in the area "talking to the people and listening to their concerns," with units covering troublespots 24 hours per day.

A simple stroll through the town centre is enough to confirm Nimanaj's reputation.

"The police were too weak to deal with sophisticated gangs," said a local market trader.

In November 2003 two local police officers were shot dead near the town, during investigations into a high-profile murder, he recalled.

"But this woman seems to know her job. Police have never been more respected then nowadays, even by known troublemakers in the town," he added.

Police lieutenant Rasim Syla said his chief "very cleverly uses a new style towards the citizens."

"She comes to every possible dangerous site, talks directly to the people and listens to their concerns. And they have accepted her," Syla added.
Not to diminish her and her force's achievement, but Captain Nimanaj's attitude cannot sufficently explain her success. Either the "economic criminals" are enjoying such plenty as to ease competition, or experiencing such scarcity as to make them seek richer pickings elsewhere.

As for the political criminals, Nimanaj's approach may be very influential: if she can undermine the insecurity that feeds defensive nationalism and so (simultaneously) encourage belief in and support of the community and the state, she could reduce people's desire to commit violence and others' willingness to support it (or fear of condemning it).
Nimanaj feels that, despite longheld prejudices, she has not had a single problem because of her gender.

"It might be luck. But, with this job, you have no time to think about your gender," Nimanaj said.

The main goal for this policewoman is to "eliminate all prejudices in Decane."

"Now it is a calm town, where peace is in force."

She admits that the job has also changed her personally.

"You need to work so hard to address its challenges, to accept that you are on duty 24 hours a day, to find a common language with the citizens in order to have a calm and stable situation," she said.

Her job has had an impact at home, Nimanaj admits, but she insists it has not affected her new marriage.

"I am married to a police officer, that's probably why he understands my permanent preoccupation with the job," she explained with that broad smile.
This is a very positive development; we can only hope it is emulated elsewhere.

AFP (Agence France-Presse). 2006: "Kosovo policewoman bringing order to troublesome town", 17th July. Available at:
HRW (Human Rights Watch). 2004: "Failure to protect: Anti-minority violence in Kosovo". Human Rights Watch, Volume 16, Number 6. Available at:
ICG (International Crisis Group). 2004: "Collapse in Kosovo". ICG Europe Report, Number 155, 22nd April. Available at:
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). 2003: Update on the situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptian, Bosniak and Gorani in Kosovo. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Available at:

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