24 April 2018
FM: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of National Police of Timor-Leste
In the year 2000, Timor-Leste’s first law enforcement institution was known as the Timor-Leste Police Service (TLPS), and was under the authority of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). In 2002, Timor-Leste’s
I Constitutional Government took over executive authority for the state of Timor-Leste, and renamed the TLPS as the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL). So, whilst the PNTL has only existed for 20 years, it has continued to show progress as its matures as an institution.
During the 2006 political crisis, the PNTL almost collapsed an institution during fighting between elements of the PNTL, the Defence Force of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) and Martial Arts Groups (MAG’s). Despite this, still functioning elements of the PNTL continued to play a role in providing for law and order, alongside international police and military forces deployed under United Nations mandate as the International Security Force (ISF) to assist in re-establishing security. UN forces remained in Timor-Leste until 2012, after which responsibility for internal security was again transferred to the PNTL.
On the national level, since 2012 the PNTL has continued to develop its institutional capacity for security provision for the people of Timor-Leste. This has included providing for a safe and secure environment during Timor-Leste’s first nationally-run suco elections in 2016 and the 2017 Presidential and Parliamentary elections, which were conducted relatively smoothly despite some concerns from civil society and international observers. Fundasaun Mahein (FM) expects that the PNTL will once again provide for safe and secure elections during the May 12 2018 Parliamentary elections, which will be critical for Timor-Leste’s political stability and peaceful development.
FM would also like to acknowledge the Australia Federal Police (AFP) and New Zealand Police (NZ Police) for their ongoing contributions to PNTL capacity development and their support for the implementation of Community Policing as a philosophy of policing within the PNTL.
At the international level, in 2015, the PNTL assumed the position of Chair for the Comunidade dos Paises da Lingua Português (CPLP), inclusive of the states of Angola, Brazil, Cavo-Verde, Guiné-Bissau, Guiné Equitorial, Mozambique, São Tome e Príncipe, Portugal and Timor-Leste, with police from these states conducting training and exchanges together, under the leadership of the PNTL in 2015. In 2016, the PNTL organized a course for police sergeants, with participants not only from the PNTL, but police officers from CPLP countries such as São Tome e Príncipe, Cabo-Verde, Guiné-Bissau and Guiné Equitorial. The CPLP countries supported Timor-Leste’s 24 year long struggle for independence, and have continued to do for so its 16 years of independence. The PNTL has helped to strengthen this relationship through training police from CPLP countries, and participating in UN Police Missions.,as well as participation in regional dialogues and meetings concerning law enforcement.FM would also likely to acknowledge the increase in cooperation and coordination between the PNTL and the Indonesian National Police (POLRI) regarding shared security issues such as border security and transnational crime.
Regarding policy, whilst the 2009 PNTL Organic Law and the PNTL Strategic Plan 2014-2018 do respectively clarify the structure and responsibilities of the PNTL, and articulate a development vision for the PNTL, they are still not supported by policy that sees this legislation and planning effectively implemented. In particular, the Community Policing model contained in the PNTL Strategic Plan 2014-2018 still faces significant challenges for its implementation. The Community Policing model is based on the three pillars of Visibility, involvement and professionalism (VIP). This involves policy visibility in and engagement with communities in a professional manner, towards creative and collaborative problem-solving of community security issues. The objective of this to improve relationships between communities and the police, and build community confidence in the PNTL’s ability to address local security issues. Community policing is also a philosophy the PNTL is mainstreaming as an institution, and refers not to any particular unit, but to the PNTL as a whole.
However, FM’s monitoring reveals that the implementation of Community Policing as the governing philosophy and approach to policing by all PNTL Members remains problematic. This is especially the case in PNTL Special Units outside of the regular PNTL’s District Commands. Some members of these units, trained to a higher standard for dangerous situations and equipped with automatic weapons, may consider themselves above the philosophy of Community Policing, and continue to practice an interventionist model of policing, in stark contrast to the overriding model of cooperative policing the PNTL is attempting to implement. Whilst FM acknowledges that the PNTL must maintain a capacity for responding to violent and dangerous incidents with specialized units, the security environment in Timor-Leste does not require such interventions on a regular basis. Therefore, when some PNTL Members regularly carry such intimidating and lethal weapons in public, outside of high risk situations, the PNTL’s primary mandate, to serve and protect the people, is undermined and the institution suffers as a whole.
So, whilst the PNTL has made institutional significant progress over these 20 years, it still requires the support of the Government, international stakeholders and civil society to effectively implement Community Policing across the PNTL. Eventually doing this will change the nature of security provision in Timor-Leste to one of cooperation between law enforcement and communities, rather than an approach that alienates and intimidates the people. FM has great faith that the PNTL is capable of making this shift in line with its strategic guidance, and that with continued support and public input it can become an institution that is respected by all Timorese citizens.
Congratulation PNTL for 20 years of service and growth!
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