More on Georgian Police Reforms

More On Georgian Police Reforms…

A group of Georgian officers.

I continue to be fascinated by this story. Here is more information on these reforms in the Republic of Georgia following the “Rose Revolution” in 2004 which was led by newly-elected President Mikheil Saakashvili and the amazing success of the new government’s efforts to reform its police.

First, see my first blog on this subject if you haven’t already seen it.

Then read on…

Here’s more on the Georgian reform from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs:


“Under Georgia’s former president, Eduard Shevardnadze, a tight nexus existed between the police, state institutions, business, politics, and organized crime. When the USSR collapsed, Georgia had a population of approximately 5.5 million people. There were about 25,000 personnel in the MVD and 1,000 in the KGB—a ratio of one law enforcement official per some 200 citizens. Georgia thus remained a heavily policed society. Despite reforms in other parts of the government, the MVD maintained a dysfunctional structure with 28 departments. Just before the Rose Revolution, additional security departments were created and MVD personnel more than doubled (56,000) while the population had decreased by nearly 1 million, creating a worse police-citizen ratio, less than 1:80. Given the low salaries of law enforcement personnel ($40-50 per month on average), preventing police corruption was almost impossible.

“How was it possible for Georgia to quickly transition from a state of crime bosses (in Soviet parlance, ‘thieves in law’) to a state of law-abiding citizens? Georgia’s political landscape changed substantially after the Rose Revolution of November 2003. Widespread dissatisfaction with the undemocratic and corrupt post-Soviet regime led to the 2004 election of Mikheil Saakashvili, whose government immediately targeted the corrupt police apparatus, which many Georgians saw as the epitome of a failed state.

“By the end of 2006, the Saakashvili administration abolished the KGB-style Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and its related police units, dismissed every member of the country’s uniformed police, and created a new police force from scratch… the reformers’ strategy was to capitalize on public support, think boldly, act quickly, and fix mistakes as they arose (my emphasis). All this produced significant progress…

“The main police academy has been one major focal point of reform. Before the Rose Revolution, the academy was widely believed to be one of the most corrupt structures in the MVD. Admissions and examination processes were completely devoid of integrity. Prospective students had to pay between $4,000-6,000 to be admitted. Much of the money flowed to the top administrators and entrance examiners. The illicit sums paid were estimated to be approximately $500,000 a year.

“The result? A drastic improvement in Georgia’s ranking in corruption by Transparency International. The World Bank’s Freedom of Business ranking raised Georgia from 100 in 2006 to 12 in 2011, higher than Finland, Sweden, or Japan (my emphasis). Russia, in the same period, fell from 70 to 120. Still, monitoring organizations have also noticed lingering abuses of the legal system. For example, minor thefts and petty bribes have landed some with long prison sentences.

“There are a number of international organizations and foreign embassies in Georgia that are active in providing reform assistance to Georgian law enforcement agencies. Local recommendations are in line with efforts of international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s Police Assistance Program for the Georgian Police; the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP); the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) international civilian police contingent; the EU’s Rule-of-Law Mission in Georgia (EUJUST Themis); the Police and Human Rights Program of the Council of Europe (COE); the International Organization for Migration (IOM); and the U.S., German, and French Embassies… 

“It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Georgia’s success for other post-Soviet states. There was once a general discourse on the alleged cultural idiosyncrasies of the South Caucasus, including, as Georgian scholar Georgi Glonti pointed out, that they “automatically oppose the law, whatever form it takes.” Saakashvili proved this wrong. National identities and political cultures are not set in stone. His boldness as a reformer did more than change the social order in Georgia. He broke the stereotype that corruption is ‘naturally’ embedded in one’s political and societal culture, in Georgia’s case of an honor-and-shame society…


 [To see the full article click HERE]

The question I have is this: Are there lessons in police reform that we can learn from this? Especially in light of our Federal Court using “consent decrees” to reform some of our nation’s police departments over the years and currently in New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle?

[The above article is the work of PONARS: New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia is an international network of academics that advances new policy approaches to research and security in Russia and Eurasia. PONARS Eurasia is based at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. The publication was made possible by grants from Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.]


  1. I ran a few law enforcement projects in Georgia in the years prior to and immediately after the “rose revolution” in Georgia. I recently had the opportunity this summer to return on a separate mission (I was working with their customs services), but got a chance to talk with many previous contacts about changes in Georgia. The change really is inspiring. Anyone who has ever spent years in Iraq, Columbia, Serbia, whereever, on police reform understands that feeling of hopelessness you too often get when you return to the same world of corruption, crime, and complete alienation from the public among the police you train.

    Sure in describing things in Georgia, most note the superficial stuff, the police now work in glass buildings, drive shiny Volkswagens, where US style uniforms, etc., but the real change is far deeper. Perhaps no opinion influenced me more than a wealthy businessman I know there. He has close business ties to Russia and hates the current government. I asked him what he thought of the police. He started out, like 95% of the world’s citizens, complaining. aaahhh they are everywhere, can’t get a break, etc. And I said, so all this stuff about reform and change is nonsense. He said, well no, its night and day better. I had two cars stolen before the revolution, now everyone I know keeps there keys in the car. Crime is practially non-existent and you risk getting arrested just trying to slip money to the cops when once I would have paid 7 times just to drive from here to the border with Armenia. So how did they do it. They hired kids who they could be sure never took a dime in their life and started over. Literally, the few “honest cops” they could trust were left to run things but 95% were diaper dandies. What is shocking for old Soviet world hands like myself is that the old culture has not come back. Its truly what is most inspiring for me as I continue my own work in this part of the world.

    The change is phenomenal and I would bet you cannot find such a dramatic change in any country or municipal level police agency. That said, I don’t see a lot of lessons for the New Orleans or other cities you mentioned. Ok, lets say you just got handed total control there do what they essentially did in Georgia which is fire every police officer in one swoop and then decide who (some 5% in Georgia’s case get rehired) and start over. Even if you could legally pull that maneuver off, the costs and benefits are different here than over there. In Georgia they had little price to pay. The militia (as everywhere in the former Soviet countries) did NOT police. Most went through an academy, got a lieutenants badge, got a desk, and had to figure out how they were going to pay their debt for getting in. Policing was not on their boss or colleagues mind. Statistics in Georgia actually showed that fatal accidents dropped over the 6 months between firing all the milita (including their former traffic police which deserve their own book on corruption) and the time it took to put the new patrols on the road. Literally no price was paid. Obviously in New Orleans that is not near he case, nor is corruption the same thing there as over here.
    Well, sorry for the lengthy rant, but that is my five cents on your question.
    Rob Peacock
    Kiev, Ukraine


    1. Nice job, Rob, thanks for this insight. And you are right about replicating this in, say, the U.S. But I still think there are some lessons here. I don’t know what they are yet but will keep listening… Thanks!


  2. Too bad the USA can’t get a ratio of 1 cop per 200 citizens or 1 cop per 80 citizens, then it would not be so hard trying to get a cop to answer even minor routine calls in a large or medium size city. Too many American cities and counties have grown so large in population; however, the number of law enforcement persnonel has remain the same or in many cases have decline. There are lessons; however, they have been report over and over again in the 20s, 30, 50s, 60s, 70s all the way up to today, but our politicans, business leaders, and many law enforcement personnel do not want to carry them out because they have too much invested interests in maintaining a corrupt police force and they are determined to keep it that way.


  3. It seems Georgia has a bit of work to do with it’s jail and prison system:

    “Video footage broadcast on Georgian television on September 18, 2012, depicts sexual and other abuse of inmates in a notorious prison in Georgia, which should be subject to criminal investigation, Human Rights Watch said today”,0,1795931.story

    “GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights chief called on Georgia on Friday to prosecute prison officers caught on videos torturing and raping inmates, a scandal that has broken out a week before a national election.”

    “The penal system in Georgia is rife with the sadistic abuse of inmates covered under a glossy façade, claims an ex-deputy chief warden, who released footage of beatings and rape allegedly taken in a Tbilisi prison.

    Vladimir Bedukadze alleges that top Georgian officials, including President Saakashvili, were aware of the abuses at the Gdlani prison, which triggered a major political scandal in the country. He claims that inmates in Georgia face inhumane treatment for political reasons or simply for the amusement of those in charge of jails.”


    1. As I said earlier, the Georgian situation bears watching. Is this police reform separate from the prison system? And we all no when it comes to government, use of force, honesty, accountability and transparency, no system is perfect. Does anyone else have some input on the Georgian CJS. Thanks, Gareth, for alerting us to this situation!


  4. The press are not particularly interested in educating their readers and tend to write on less well known countries with crayon like broad stripes. The Russian-backed opposition party two-weeks before the election does produce a set of video filmed in the Georgian prisons showing grotesque acts that lead to the firing of every senior prison official and police investigations of those directly involved. When this happens in the US context, do we in the US call for the Mayor’s head (ie. NYPD use of broom handle on Abner Louima) or the Presidents’ heads (ie. multiple US-run prison scandels in Iraq).
    I am not defending the prison situation in Georgia which had largely fallen outside the realm of reform in the first 7 years of the government there. In fact, the elimination of corruption in the police force and sudden requirement that they actually police led to 2 or 3 times the number of prisoners in crumbling Soviet-era prisons. I expect this scandel woke a lot of reformers up on the overlooked sector. They don’t have the funds for the rate of incarceration they currently are experiencing and I expect sentencing reform will be part of what they adopt over the next few years.
    That said, we as educated, outside observors have a responsibility to differentiate between what is the result of transparency and political freedoms; and what is evidence of their absence. So lets continue to watch events there but be careful of reaching summary judgments. Georgia’s unique transformation away from corruption is a fragile change only 7-8 years old and deserves better than what the twenty-something associate press and NYTimes journalists working out of Moscow gives it.


    1. Many older reporters were cut loose by the new rich owners like Mr. Murdoch to save money and many newspapers, radio, and TV stations are nothing but cheerleaders for rich people and corporations. They are not interested in providing good stories and investigative reporting. It just all about squeezing as much money as you can from the taxpayers and employees plus doing what Corporate America tells you to do; otherwise, you lose billions of dollars from their adverstiments.


  5. Looks like a major turn of events in the Georgian Republic. “Time” magazine reports this week (Oct. 15, 2012) that a major clash has occured between pro-Western President Saakashvilli and Moscow-friendly Bidzina Ivanishvillihas resulting in Ivanishvilli winning the presidency. Also recently, there have been major reports last month of torture and abuse in Georgia’s prison system (Reported by the New York Times on Sept.19) It remains to be seen as to what will happen to the significant police reforms Saakashvilli seems to have engineered during his presidency and if “Moscow-backed” somehow means that police will revert to the old “KGB” style of the former Soviet Union. Stay tuned.


  6. What is fragile in Georgia is the current intolerance of corruption. The change really was unprecendented in a developing country particularly one whose people were seen as major players in the corrupt former soviet system (ie. the wealthy Ivanishvilli you mention whose Russian-gained wealth is a staggering 50% of the country’s GNP). The last 7 years of police reforms will mean little if the public servants return to large scale corruption.

    Talking to people there on my last trip many voters wanted change but not tossing out the reforms. That said, Americans have to put this in perspective. Ivanishvilli was a Hugh Hefner (in his later years) who has barely left his giant mansion above the capital in years and then suddenly gets a half dozen parties (many of which couldn’t be more different–ie. feminist party and far right nationalist) and tells them he will spend millions and use his TV channels to support a single coalition ballot for the election. This coalition is what just won a majority of seats. That part was relatively easy, now the hard part starts. Once they all smell power, how does he get them to govern. Personally, it will be a mess but democracy can be and still protect the reforms. Saakashvilli remains the President, that election is not for a year and he cannot run because of term limits.

    In any case will be something watched closely in the region. For reformers in the region, Georgia is like a mecca; for the hardliners and corrupt in the region, its a fairy tale they hope to stop hearing about when greed prevails. We will all see. The public seems to still rate the reforms high and certainly do not want to see disorder and crime return to the levels of the 1990s.


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