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The Asia Foundation Releases 2013 Survey of Community-Police Perceptions in Timor-Leste

3,106 Timorese citizens, community leaders, and police polled in all 13 districts

Dili, September 8, 2014 — The Asia Foundation today released the latest Survey of Community-Police Perceptions in Timor-Leste, which tracks changes in Timor-Leste’s security situation and citizens’ justice seeking behaviors compared to a similar survey conducted in 2008. From March-April 2013, local pollsters interviewed a nationally representative sample of 3,106 Timorese men and women from three distinct target groups: the general population (GP), community leaders (CL), and the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (National Police of Timor-Leste or PNTL).

Data captured in this survey shows that people in Timor-Leste are increasingly optimistic and believe the country’s security situation has improved over the previous year (GP 72%; CL 84%; PNTL 91%). These expressions of confidence are particularly notable as they reflect sentiments just a few months after the departure of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission, UNMIT, and its substantial contingent of international police officers.

Despite such optimism, reported rates of crime remain high and at similar levels to 2008 (22%), with community leaders (40%) almost twice as likely as the general public to report experiencing a crime in their family. While feelings of insecurity remain high (64%), the general public indicated reduced levels of concern about their safety for the first time (9% decrease since 2008). Land disputes (10%), domestic violence (9%), and assault (6%) remain the top three crimes experienced by general public respondents. Land disputes and domestic violence are considered the main security threats in communities, while the police (51%) overwhelmingly consider domestic violence as the greatest security issue in their area of responsibility.

A variety of actors continue to interact at the village level to provide security and safety, however an increasing number of citizens agree that they have primary responsibility for maintaining security in their communities compared to 2008, when the majority of respondents indicated community leaders should have primary responsibility. The police are still not considered as the main security providers. There is an increase in the use of community justice mechanisms by the police (29% in 2008 vs 58% in 2013) and a reduction in the use of formal justice measures such as arrests and registering cases (39% in 2008 vs 4% in 2013).

All target groups indicated that police performance had become much better in the past year (GP 71%; CL 77%; Police: 98%). Overall satisfaction rates from the general public seeking assistance from the police remain high (69%) and instances of physical abuse and lack of respect have decreased dramatically since 2008.

PNTL Performance

The 2013 survey is the Foundation’s second nationwide survey of Timorese citizens in all 13 districts to gather first-hand opinions on a wide variety of contemporary local security and police-related issues.

The general public’s continued expressions of confidence in the PNTL could be interpreted as evidence of enhanced community-police relations and public approval of the services the PNTL delivers. However, the survey results provide several reasons to give pause before drawing such conclusions. Contact with the police remains a serious challenge, with only one in 10 general public respondents saying that either they or a member of their family had contact with the PNTL in the last year. Even more troubling is the fact that only 40% of community leaders reported having had any contact with the PNTL in the past year, despite community leaders being the main contact point through which the police identify community issues and disseminate information. However, in late 2013, the PNTL began an ambitious program of assigning one police officer to each of the 442 sukus (villages) in the country. Such a wide-scale assignment of police officers is sure to affect both contact rates and satisfaction rates in the future.

Despite feelings of insecurity and various other pressures including land disputes, lack of health services, and high unemployment affecting communities, the Timorese people remain optimistic about their police service. While the survey results show a clear shift from the use of formal legal measures towards customary practices, this shift is being accompanied by a commitment from the PNTL to strengthen their work at the village level. With high rates of domestic violence being reported in a predominantly patriarchal society, a key challenge for police in the coming years will not only be to provide adequate services to Timor-Leste’s largely rural population, but to ensure that the rights of women and children are respected, with equal access to justice.


A Survey of the Community-Police Perceptions in Timor-Leste 2013 is The Asia Foundation’s second public opinion survey in Timor-Leste focused on security and safety issues. The 2013 survey used questions from the 2008 survey to track changes in indicators over the last several years and included new lines of questioning to gauge the current context. Using distinct survey templates that targeted the general public, community leaders, and members of the police service, the survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews and collected the views of 3,106 people from all 13 districts of Timor-Leste.

To better establish baselines in Foundation program areas, the sample size was increased in the six districts of Aileu, Baucau, Bobonaro, Dili, Manatuto, and Viqueque. Sample sizes in non-target districts were based on population distributions in the 2010 census. A total of 1,895 voting-age general public respondents were sampled above the age of 17, with an overall margin of error (MoE) of 2.25% for the national sample, while oversampling in six of the Foundation’s program target areas allowed for a similar margin of error (2.37%). A total of 467 community leaders were sampled nationally, with a margin of error of 3.12% overall and 3.86% in oversampled districts. In the final group, 748 police officers were sampled, with a margin of error of 2.78% for the national sample and 2.62% when analyses were disaggregated among the six oversampled districts. The 2013 survey is a product of The Asia Foundation, with support provided by the United Kingdom Aid Program (UKAID) and the New Zealand Aid Program.

Read more about The Asia Foundation and its work in Timor-Leste.

Related locations: Timor-Leste
Related programs: Good Governance, Law and Justice

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Amy Ovalle, Vice President, Global Communications
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