05 April 2009

East Timorese Cautiously Optimistic About Security Situation, Have High Confidence in National Police

ASIA FOUNDATION POLL: East Timorese Cautiously Optimistic About Security Situation, Have High Confidence in National Police DILI, Timor-Leste - Challenged by ongoing social unrest and marred by violence in 2006 that left 37 dead and displaced close to 150,000 people, Timor-Leste signaled last week a positive step forward. On Friday, the government announced plans for the district-by-district transition of policing authority from the United Nations security forces to the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL), which coincided with the appointment of a new chief of police and the nine year anniversary of the establishment of the PNTL.

To coincide with these events and to shed light on the complex relationship between the PNTL and Timorese citizens, The Asia Foundation is releasing its findings from its landmark opinion poll, “A Survey of Community-Police Perceptions; Timor-Leste in 2008” today. The report shows a high degree of confidence in police officers among citizens, but also reveals that the positive perceptions may have little to do with face-to-face interaction with the PNTL, which respondents indicated as infrequent. A copy of the survey can be accessed in its entirety at www.asiafoundation.org.

The Asia Foundation conducted the survey – the first-ever nationwide community-police perceptions poll in Timor-Leste – to gather opinions of Timorese citizens, community leaders, and members of the PNTL on security and police-related issues. The data will be presented to policymakers and stakeholders in government, the international community, and the broader Timorese public to address ongoing issues related to local level security and community-police relations.

It is widely believed that over the past year coordinated government and police-led efforts reduced gang-related violence and facilitated the return of over 6,500 internally displaced families. Key findings from the survey indicate that the public remains optimistic about security: 53 percent of the national public and 83 percent of the PNTL surveyed say the security situation in their locality has improved compared to one year ago. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of citizens are still concerned about their safety in their locality. One in five citizens point to gang violence as the most serious security issue, while 45 percent of police consider domestic violence to be the most serious issue.

Seventy-one percent of citizens believe the performance of the PNTL has improved compared to one year ago, and 84 percent express high confidence in the commitment of the PNTL to prevent crime. However, contact with the PNTL is infrequent among the national public (12 percent) and community leaders (33 percent) in the last year, and Timorese are four times more likely to identify community leaders, rather than the PNTL, as being primary responsible for maintaining security in their locality. The public still relies heavily on customary practices for resolving crimes or disputes. With the exception of violent crimes, most citizens prefer to seek justice through informal mediation led by community leaders.

“The survey gives numbers to the real issues that we face in the National Police. The results will help us prioritize our efforts,” said Joao Belo dos Reis, PNTL sub-inspector. Prior to the turbulent events of 2006, only one in ten officers of the over 3,000-strong national police service had previous policing experience. The PNTL has consistently operated with minimal resources; for instance, officers did not have a functioning radio system and have relied on the UN radio network or their personal mobile phones instead, and there have been few vehicles available for patrolling and responding to calls. Despite these and other constraints, in 2008 the PNTL made progress on its own. In-house policy reform efforts were undertaken, including the training of staff members, and the PNTL’s national training academy conducted its first needs assessment and designed course curriculum.

With partial funding from the Australian Federal Police’s Timor-Leste Police Development program, The Asia Foundation designed the survey to inform policymakers on the dynamics of local level security and community-police relations, as well as provide a basis for designing initiatives to strengthen community-police cooperation. Survey results establish a baseline for measuring change in community-police relations over time. Following the release of this survey report, the Foundation will conduct a series of stakeholder workshops to address community security and police reform. Survey interviews and fieldwork were conducted between August and September of 2008 by Insight Consulting, a local organization specializing in social science research.

The complete report and survey findings are available on The Asia Foundation’s website. Download a copy of “A Survey of Community-Police Perceptions; Timor-Leste in 2008” here: http://asiafoundation.org/publications/pdf/506.

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