Transforming the Organizational Culture of a Law Enforcement Agency in Bulgaria

PhD thesis, Ivan K. Ivanov

For over 25 years now, efforts have been made in Bulgaria to transform the patterns of state functioning and social behavior, as well as the essence of national institutions. The transition from totalitarianism to democracy introduced the theme of change. On the one hand, it featured the constitutional changes in the characteristics and types of authorities, as well as their relationships within the state. On the other hand, there were the administrative and value-driven changes, running parallel to the democratization of institutions, and promoting civic participation at large. Despite the significant achievements by a number of governments during this period – including free and fair elections, market economy, freedom of speech and pro-European development, or to put it briefly, the formal existence of a democratic state – Bulgarians continue to believe that governments and authorities do not function in a fair, efficient  and transparent enough way, and do not, in fact, work in their interest. This is particularly relevant when it comes to asserting individual freedoms, rights and legitimate interests in an environment of prevailing security concerns.

The democratic concept of the state as a system of public authorities rests on the assumption that the state seeks to guarantee security and protect the individual rights of citizens in an effort to strengthen the relationship between state authorities and local government, on the one hand, and citizenry and NGOs on the other. By definition the police is seen as public authority whose activities are carried out in accordance with the Constitution  and in line with international standards; an authority  primarily acting to enable citizens to exercise their rights and constitutional freedoms.

It is worth noting that Bulgaria has already been through 20 years of difficult experience in introducing civil society structures and practices of democratic forms of government and participation in successful police work. The most serious attempt to reform the existing police system was actually made by an outside institution – the Proximity Practice model proposed by the Open Society Foundation in 2000 that initiated the drafting of micro-strategies in individual police departments in the country, but never reached  full concept implementation. The model proposed by the Open Society Foundation in fact challenged the archaic nature of law enforcement agencies in Bulgaria: the reforms undertaken in the sector a few years later,  in 2008, marked a return to pre-1989 practices of greater centralization and reinforcement of the repressive function.

Shifting the emphasis from “state interests” to pressing issues such as human rights, integration of marginalized human groups, abuse of power, and the changing macro-frame of crime require police competence dependent on introducing changes in its approach and work practices. It is this particular kind of reform in the police sector that was not carried out  in accordance with the requirements of democratic liberal order. In 2009 the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia registered high public expectations towards police reform as one of the most needed and at the same time the most problematic steps for the democratization of the security sector in the country.

Reforming police authorities towards opening up to communities and the introduction of various forms of cooperation with citizenry is a global phenomenon (Skolnick and Bayley, 1988; Bayley, 1994). Academic research advocating police reforms may be found in the UK (Bennett, 1994; Friedman, 1992; Bennett and Lupton, 1990; Weatherit, 1986), Singapore (Quah & Quah, 1987), Canada (1992), Murphy and Muir, 1985), in Israel (Guva, 2000) and in all Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland), where the year 2000 witnessed the development of administrative practices linked to the introduction of community policing, in one form or another.

In the USA, where the concept originated, the process was defined as a “quiet revolution” in police practice (Kelling, 1988).

At the same time, academic achievements in the study of actual police work and practice remain relatively modest and can often be classified as exceptions. In this sphere, the “quiet revolution” never took place, according to Trojanowic, Bucqueroux, 1990. Webber believes this is probably due to the fact that both in theory and  everyday life, the two strands are paradoxically often studied as if they were not directly related to each other (Webber, 1991). In practice, the mIssing link between theory and practice often results into lacking co-operation among police practitioners (at all levels of administration to senior officials) and academic researchers. We find similar conclusions in Ward’s work, and in particular, the parts of it devoted to questioning police work as an academic subject (Ward, 1992).

As a result, there is a lack of dialogue, almost no forms of cooperation and, ultimately, an imbalance in police practices , stretched to its limits between the requirements of a democratic state and society on the one hand, and the need to act as a major correctional mechanism of deviant public relations on the other.

Given the country specifics , the concept of “proximity practices” (community policing, community-based police,  etc.) has already evolved into a set of diverging philosophical and practical approaches and is yet to be developed to better grasp the needs and responses of the participating communities in their national contexts. The fact that there is a overwhelming variety of definitions in theory, with similar results in practice, leads to the conclusion that theoretical achievements are difficult to apply to regular policing practices  and for the most part remain within the domain  of an ongoing  academic debate.

There is a widespread consent among police practitioners, that introducing innovative methods to tackle criminal crises may be risky because models are only tested in practice.  Following best practice that turned successful elsewhere may lead to negative results locally. This is how Giuliani’s concept of “zero tolerance” in New York was successfully introduced in Sydney, Australia, but failed in San Diego and Los Angeles, USA. (Sampson, Raudenbush, 2001). Along the same line of thought, the introduction of reformist policies may be torpedoed by indifference, lack of motivation for their implementation or clear misunderstanding, even if it doesn’t run into open resistance and boycott inside the police in the first place. The end result may well be sticking to traditional police practices and pursuing goals disparate to community interests.

This PhD research aims to: review the practices of introducing reform-driven policies in law enforcement institutions in other countries; analyze the experience and possible developments linked to introducing community policing in Bulgaria; and offer practice-oriented guidance regarding leadership and politics.