Dealing with Police in the Developing World

Security official in Lahore, Pakistan

Most of us raised in the US and other democracies have been taught from an early age to seek out a police officer for assistance when they have a problem.  Unfortunately this is not always the best course of action in the developing world.  In these locations police and other security forces are often best avoided.  Frequently the best case scenario is that the police will be incompetent — under-trained and poorly funded. In some locations there are cases where the police are unable to respond to incidents because they have no fuel for their vehicles.    In Venezuela reportedly 90% of homicides go unsolved.  It’s also typical to expect some level of corruption on the part of the police who are usually underpaid and in some instances may literally need to partake in at least petty corruption to earn a living wage.  In the worst cases, the police are sometimes also involved in criminal activity – Mexico and the Philippines are two countries offhand where there have been issues with this.  In both of those countries off-duty and even active duty police have been involved with kidnap for ransom gangs and of course the extensive ties between serving members of Mexican law enforcement and the drug trafficking organizations has been widely reported and is well known.

In some places in the Islamic world their are ties between members of the police and security forces have ties to militant jihadists.  The paradox in countries like Yemen and Pakistan is that one element of the security forces is fiercely fighting the militants while another element is sympathizing or colluding with them.

These factors should be taken into account when encountering law enforcement and security forces overseas.  Expectations that police response will be like what you are accustomed to at home will likely leave you disappointed.  Remember to that interaction with police in some countries can increase your risk not lower it.

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