In late 2014, Ukraine ushered in a new government, replacing its militia-based police units with a professional patrol force. At the time, national surveys showed that less than 10 percent of Ukrainians trusted the militia. Consequently it was abolished completely as an organization. Since 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice through the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), supported by Engility, has assisted in recruiting, selecting and training over 12,000 new patrol officers. Public trust in the National Police has risen from 10 percent to over 70! The establishment of the National Police of Ukraine, and the Patrol Police in particular, is one of the single most successful internationally led reform efforts in Ukraine.
Having worked in Eurasia for the last 10 years, one of the biggest overarching threats to this fledgling success is the desire to fall back into old and comfortable habits. As Ukraine modernizes and takes ever larger steps toward European integration, the country needs to simultaneously shed its old Soviet institutions (like the militia), which weigh down those efforts.
What’s the Difference?For a Western reader, it may be difficult to appreciate the difference between a militia and a police force. I believe the main difference can be seen immediately in the way the public interacts with Patrol Police. Today officers are viewed as agents for good who will actually protect rather than persecute. The previous militia model focused on catching criminals and finding reasons to harass the population. Systemic corruption compounded this feeling. Militias were known to threaten elements of civil society and extort money from average citizens. The new National Police serve the community and don’t exploit it for personal gain. The Patrol Police in particular embody this effort to change the public’s perception: men and women in uniform who protect.
Cementing a Nation’s Dedication to Protecting CitizensThe police academy is part of ICITAP’s natural progression toward a more sustainable Patrol Police and eventually the National Police overall. The academy institutionalizes the reforms made in 2015 and creates a pipeline of qualified candidates to account for normal attrition and the ever-expanding role of the Ukrainian Patrol Police. The site of the new Police Academy will be based at the Ministry of Interior’s largest training facility in Kiev. Historically, it has always been a University for the Ministry of Interior’s cadets, dating back to its creation during the Soviet era. Symbolically it represents the ministry’s genuine desire to reform the old to make way for the new way of public servants.
As we look to the future of a democratic Ukraine, we are encouraged, knowing that every member of the National Police will have gone through basic training at the new Police Academy.