The UN's top cop: on global patrol

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Ann-Marie Orler has used her influence as a senior police officer to push for more women to enter the ranks and progress upward. The United Nations’ “top cop” talks about the evolving nature of police service.

“I became aware that I was a role model and had to set the right tone and example to all the officers who were under my command.”

Police have been an important component of the UN’s peacekeeping forces. Today, more than 17,000 international officers serve with the UN.

In addition to their traditional peacekeeping duties, UN police officers are now increasingly called upon to reform national police services, as well as offer support in areas such as crowd control, securing political rallies and safeguarding the integrity of elections.

Women on the move

Another key priority is to strengthen the response to sexual and gender-based violence.

“Very often a tactic of war is to rape and abuse women and children — crimes often committed by men in uniform,” she points out. “To ask another man in uniform to go and see these women and ask for their stories is just going to scare the victims again. Women stand a much better chance of getting their stories and protecting them, and so we need women out there working on the frontlines.”

In 2009, with Orler having been in post for a little over a year, the UN launched an initiative known as the “Global Effort” to increase the number of female police officers in its ranks to 20% by 2014.

Orler asked member states to examine their recruitment systems and identify possible obstacles for a woman to apply. “The numbers did improve — not as much as I wanted — but they still went up. From just under 7% the rate very quickly went up to 10%, and then up to 11% but then back to about 10% again.”

This can be attributed to a number of different factors, including the high competition and the fact that women tend to be the main home-maker in most parts of the world, making it difficult to be away for a year-long deployment.

We are a ‘Police Service’

During her three years as “top cop” at the UN, Orler spent time with her officers on deployment, rather than staying behind her desk at headquarters.

“Every time I went out to see my colleagues it reminded me of the importance of the work we do and how it can really make a difference,” she says.

“For example, I never say we are a ‘Police Force’ — always a ‘Police Service’. This is a small difference in that it is just a change of just one word, but it is so important in the sense that the main role of a police officer is to serve the public.”

A life in policing

Since moving back to Stockholm last year, Orler has been in demand by her country’s police service. Shortly to become the Chief of Staff for the National Police Commissioner, she has been coordinating the liaison between the current police organization and the ongoing reforms to evolving from 22 police districts into one national police service.

“The aim is to be operational January 1, 2015,” she says. “It’s challenging. People are often not against change unless it affects them personally. But, hopefully, the staff will see this as a positive change.”

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