Police officers have no duty other than to enforce the laws set by the
policies of the government in power. During the imperial era, the
police used to protect the landlords and labored hard to foil any
rebellion, plot, or movement that threatened the sanctity of the
Even then, the era was regarded as a “golden time” for the police
profession. Officers were privileged to study border policing and
engage in para-military training at police academies in the United
States, and other western countries, including Israel. The public
had high respect for the police; emergencies were referred to Aba
Dinas (graduates of the police college). Police training centers at
Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Deqe Mehari, now in Eritrea, and other
places were well organized and staffed by competent trainers.
The professionalism exhibited by the emergency police forces and riot
control units in controlling riots and rebellion with minimum
causalities and discipline is worthy of mention. They are remembered
for their sacrifices in controlling national borders under harsh
weather conditions, sometimes without basic supplies and housing.
After the military junta took power, policing faced the biggest
challenge to its very existence as an institution. The notorious
Revolutionary Guard informally took over authority of the police and
put itself above the law through mass arrests and the killing of
citizens. It was more than difficult for the police to investigate
Unfortunately, some police officers were used as sub-city investigators
for political crimes committed in the underground sparing between
the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the military
Various authorities and associations such as local administrations, and
peasant and city dwellers associations with unchecked powers to
detain citizens, made it hard for the police to manage detention
centers properly. Sometimes it was easier said than done to
ascertain when and by whom an alleged offender had been detained.
Nonetheless, the police at that time sacrificed their lives for the
territorial integrity of the country; fighting back the Somalia
aggression and leading the militia brigades. After the fall of the
military regime, the police forces were reorganized yet again. The
police organizing commission, commissioned by the transitional
government of Ethiopia and comprised of senior police officers, took
the responsibility of re-organizing the police according to the new
governmental structure. The force was comprised of former EPRDF
fighters, former police officers that had passed public screening
and the commission’s examination of personal files and interviews,
and new recruits.
The work performed by the police organizing commission laid the
foundation for the current federal police and regional police
departments. While establishing the newly structured police force,
extensive public evaluations were conducted at the woreda level and
internally within departments. The evaluation was aimed at combating
corruption and undisciplined behavior. The negative side was that
some groups and individuals used it to advance their self-interests
and even to pester innocent policemen.
However, seeking public support and participation in controlling crimes
is considered a shift in the police’s operational tactics resulting
from the series of evaluations. So too is the beginning of thinking
Afterwards, the 2001 riots in Addis Ababa and the 2007 opposition-led
riots were huge challenges for the police forces. Those events
forced police authorities to rethink strategies and the structuring
of the police. The intrusion of the Eritrean regime, and other armed
groups, the attempted murder of former Egyptian president Hussein
Mubarak and other terrorist attacks were also tough times for the
Similarly, the expansion of information and telecommunications
technology (ICT) and transport networks have allowed criminals to
coordinate their crime schemes and avoid police investigations.
Increased trade, economic growth and foreign direct investment have
also increased the movement of people. Traditional values are fading
away and new types of crimes with new tactics are emerging.
Criminogenic factors like unemployment, poverty and other
environmental factors are fueling the crime problem.
Recently, the police have engaged in community policing strategies with
new vigor. The practice of community policing has even been
established in rural areas.
However, marketing policing through television and radio programs alone
is not enough. Human relations are vital in police work. It is
through individual encounters that the public judges the police, so
patrolmen and women have to be prudent in establishing rapport with
It is obvious that different communities call for different policing
strategies because they differ in culture, tradition and values. A
showcase could be the business community that has varying needs
among its sectors. Serving the business community, for instance,
requires catering to its various security needs.
Inter-agency cooperation is one way in which the police can serve the
range of demands, whilst having a common institutional vision.
Working with the chambers of commerce, housing development projects
committees, professional associations and investors can help the
police meet the specific demands.
Apparently, crime prevention requires good local knowledge; including
knowledge of security gadgets and equipment such as door locks. For
instance, door locks of condominium houses are repeatedly crushed by
burglars. The police should consult building project offices and
owners about features of the doors and locks. Similarly, the police
need to be present in the design of high-rise buildings in order to
be furnished with escape routes, fire drills and evacuation plans in
case of emergencies. Corporate executives should constantly be
reminded that they have a duty to care for their employees by
consulting the police. Putting guards with rifles at entrances will
do little unless adequate procedures of crime reporting and
prevention are in place.
Another responsibility of the police as a result of ever-changing
realities is to maintain the safety of road users. Traffic control
is an urgent task that needs to be addressed. Crossing the main
squares of Addis Ababa at rush hours is increasingly difficult for
pedestrians. Street vendors, shoe shiners, and beggars with infants
sleeping in public places complicates the situation.
An empowered police force establishes the core of public security in a
rapidly urbanizing city such as Addis Ababa. This calls for police
stations to be empowered with a capacity to manage the complete
crime management cycle, but it cannot be accomplished by the police
alone. It needs the insistent support of the community.
As the conventional police manual puts it “crime prevention is a joint
effort.” Yet, designing strategies tailored to the new national
reality is required from the police. It is only then that
stakeholder participation can be strengthened to maintain peace and