Notes from the Field

POLL: East Timorese Cautiously Optimistic About Security Situation, Have High Confidence in National Police

April 1, 2009

Challenged by ongoing social unrest and marred by violence in 2006 that left 37 dead and displaced close to 150,000 people, Timor-Leste just signaled a positive step forward. Last Friday, the government announced plans for the district-by-district transition of policing authority from the United Nations security forces to the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL), which coincided with the appointment of a new chief of police and the nine year anniversary of the establishment of the PNTL.

To help shed light on the complex relationship between the PNTL and Timorese citizens, The Asia Foundation recently released findings from its landmark opinion poll, A Survey of Community-Police Perceptions; Timor-Leste in 2008. The report shows a high degree of confidence in police officers among citizens, but also reveals that the positive perceptions may have little to do with face-to-face interaction with the PNTL, which respondents indicated as infrequent.

The survey found the public remains optimistic about security: 53 percent of the general public and 83 percent of the PNTL surveyed say the security situation in their locality has improved compared to one year ago. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of citizens are still concerned about their safety in their locality. One in five citizens point to gang violence as the most serious security issue, while 45 percent of police consider domestic violence to be the most serious issue. Seventy-one percent of citizens believe the performance of the PNTL has improved compared to one year ago, and 84 percent express high confidence in the commitment of the PNTL to prevent crime. However, contact with the PNTL is infrequent among the national public (12%) and community leaders (33%) in the last year. The complete report and survey findings are available for download.

The Asia Foundation conducted the survey – the first-ever nationwide community-police perceptions poll in Timor-Leste – to gather opinions of Timorese citizens, community leaders, and members of the PNTL on security and police-related issues. The data will be presented to policymakers and stakeholders in government, the international community, and the broader Timorese public to address ongoing issues related to local level security and community-police relations. With partial funding from the Australian Federal Police’s Timor-Leste Police Development program, The Asia Foundation designed the survey to inform policymakers on the dynamics of local level security and community-police relations, as well as provide a basis for designing initiatives to strengthen community-police cooperation. Survey results establish a baseline for measuring change in community-police relations over time. Survey interviews and fieldwork were conducted between August and September of 2008 by Insight Consulting, a local organization specializing in social science research.

Download a copy of A Survey of Community-Police Perceptions; Timor-Leste in 2008 and read last week’s blog post by Silas Everett, Asia Foundation’s country representative in Timor-Leste. In “United Nation’s Police Withdrawal from Timor-Leste: A Graceful Exit?,” Everett discusses the criteria for the United Nations handover to the national police force.

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