Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Constitutional regulation of the police

Therese Sjöström of International IDEA writes with a query about constitutional provisions related to the police. This is not a subject on which there has been much attention, and as yet we have no general report on the police on our site. We hope that those of you with relevant experience or information will comment on this post, which we will then forward to any interested parties as well as posting here.

Regulating the police is of crucial importance, particularly in post-conflict situations. One obvious channel for regulating police behavior is the presence of criminal procedure provisions which are designed to control their behavior in dealing with criminal suspects. Beyond that, however, some constitutions have provisions regarding appointments, limitation of police powers, allocating of command authority (particularly important in federal systems with multiple police forces) and sometimes describing special police commissions. Some require non-partisanship (Burundi 1998, Art. 62) while others, such as Bolivia’s constitutional text provided below, allow individual officers to have party membership even if the institution as a whole must remain nonpartisan.

Title VIII of Bolivia’s Constitution has a nice concise set of provisions:

Article 215 I. As a public force, the National Police has the specific mission of defending society and preserving public order and the carrying out of laws throughout the national territory. It exercises the police function in an integral manner, under single command, in accordance with its Organic Law and the laws of the Republic.
II. As an institution, it does not deliberate or participate in political party activities, although, individually, its members enjoy and exercise their citizen rights in accordance with law.

Article 216 . The forces of the National Police are subordinate to the President of the Republic through the Minister of Government.

Article 217 . To be appointed Commander-General of the National Police, it is necessary to be Bolivian by birth, a General in the institution, and meet requirements specified by law.

Article 218. In the event of international war, the forces of the National Police shall become subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for the duration of the conflict.

Again, if anyone knows of other good examples, please forward or comment here.


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