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Evaluating the professional standards and ethics of security and justice institutions globally is daunting. Working with a myriad of government structures and social dynamics poses significant challenges to any non-governmental organization (NGO) working on criminal justice reform, yet global partnerships that share best practices can serve as valuable catalysts for social change.
The Altus Global Alliance (Altus), established in 2004, is composed of six NGOs across five continents that partner to apply global research on security and justice to local contexts. In addition to the Vera Institute of Justice, they are:
• The Center for Studies on Public Safety, based in Santiago, Chile;
• The Center for Studies on Public Security and Citizenship, based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
• The CLEEN Foundation, based in Lagos, Nigeria;
• The Institute for Development and Communication, based in Chandigarh, India; and
• The INDEM Foundation, based in Moscow, Russia.
Altus’s strength lies in its global perspective: bringing together diverse and multicultural tools, knowledge, and capacities from societies around the world; enriching the critical research and reforms developed and implemented by these partners; and creating a network of experts and allies committed to improving public safety and justice worldwide.
The largest collaboration undertaken by Altus is its annual Police Station Visitors Week (PSVW); the seventh annual one took place last November. This global event aims to assess the quality of services delivered by participating police stations, the level of accountability of police agencies, and the perceptions of local citizens receiving these services. Through partnerships with local NGOs and community groups, Altus members organize and facilitate police station visits for community members to rate the service and conditions in their local police station. This community feedback provides stations with a unique opportunity to to improve their overall service delivery and respond more effectively to the needs of those they serve. Since 2006, stations in more than 100 countries around the world have participated. In 2013, more than 12,000 individuals visited nearly 1,340 police stations in countries including Benin, Mexico, Bolivia, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan.
For the majority of the community members who participated, this represented their first-ever visit to a police station, demonstrating the historical barriers between police and community, often a result of militarized police agencies and frequent human rights abuses by law enforcement, still present throughout much of the world, including the U.S. While this event can serve to expose shortcomings within a country’s justice system, it also provides an opportunity to recognize and reward those top-scoring stations that are providing effective services to their communities.
The top performing stations from PSVW 2013 were recognized at the seventh annual PSVW Global Conference and Awards Ceremony, which took place June 6, 2014 in Antigua, Guatemala, bringing together representatives from the U.S., Brazil, Chile, India, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. Award-winning stations were those that visitors scored highest in the areas of Community Orientation, Physical Conditions, Equal Treatment of the Public, Transparency and Accountability, and Detention Conditions. The annual awards ceremony, which focused this year on “Police reforms: progress and challenges worldwide,” gives police officials an opportunity to share experiences and best practices from their home countries with their counterparts from around the world.
Not only does PSVW improve police-community relations in often hostile environments, but it also provides a voice to thousands of marginalized individuals who, for a variety of reasons, often lack access to law enforcement and, therefore, to justice and safety in their own communities. The successes of PSVW—which will take place again this year in early November—have led to an increase in demand for the program to new stations, cities, and countries around the world. They also provide an example of the benefits of global alliances such as Altus. The multicultural perspective on security and justice issues that Altus lends to the countries in which it works serves to address universal human rights issues and enrich public safety practices around the world.