On global patrol

10 Jun 14
Not content with a career focused purely on fighting crime, Ann-Marie Orler has used her influence as a senior police officer to push for more women to enter the ranks and progress upward. Here, she tells Citizen Today about her experiences as the UN’s “Top Cop” and the evolving nature of police service

10 June 2014

Not content with a career focused purely on fighting crime, Ann-Marie Orler has used her influence as a senior police officer to push for more women to enter the ranks and progress upward. Here, she talks about her experiences as the UN’s “Top Cop” and the evolving nature of police service.

A quiet side street in Stockholm is a long way from UN headquarters in Manhattan, let alone post-confl ict countries such as Rwanda, Liberia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. For Ann-Marie Orler, however, the address of Stockholm’s Police Headquarters is just another place of work, the latest calling point in a policing career that has embraced global and local with equal passion.

Orler has been back in her native Sweden for a relatively short time. Previously, she was based in the UN’s headquarters in New York, where Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon frequently described her as his “top cop” — which he preferred to the more prosaic “Police Adviser.” Regardless of the title, it was a job she relished.

“I tried to do my best and I really tried to make the most of the opportunity to make a positive difference,” she says. “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. International work enables you to expand your outlook. It gets boring if you just stay in the same position for a long time — there are always new things to learn, exchange and new people to meet. It’s a big world! It was a real privilege to work with so many people from all over the world and it made me realize we’re not that different: we all want the same kind of thing.”

Women on the move

Founded in 1945 by 51 countries, the UN seeks to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights. Police have long been an important component of the 

UN’s peacekeeping forces: the first deployment was to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960, and now more than 17,000 international officers serve with the UN. Their mandates, too, have become more multi-dimensional. 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. Another key priority is to strengthen the response to sexual and upward. Here, she tells Citizen Today about gender-based violence, an issue that was pivotal in Orler’s her experiences as the UN’s “Top Cop” and the determination to ensure that more women officers would be made available for deployment.

“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 front lines. It’s also easier for them to be accepted into the communities and find out what’s really going on.” 

And so 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. Keen to ensure that this would be more than just another campaign that would be rapidly forgotten, Orler and her colleagues asked member states to examine their recruitment systems and identify what might be an obstacle for a woman to apply. “In general, we received lots of positive responses,” she recalls. “If they did it just to be politically correct, I don’t know and I don’t care — I just wanted the women to come through as a result. 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.” 

That the rate has not increased further can be attributed to a number of different factors, she continues. “In some countries, going on a UN mission is like winning the lottery, primarily because you have a much higher salary than back home. So it is highly competitive already and some men wouldn’t welcome even more competition from women as well. And in most places around the world, women tend to be the main homemaker — taking care of the kids and so on —and it might well be difficult for a woman to be away for a year-long deployment.” The reason why deployments are so long is that integrating into a community is crucial in any mission — and this takes time.

Life on the road

Orler spent five years in total at the UN. Originally appointed as Deputy Police Adviser – a post she held for two years — she was promoted to the “top cop” role in 2010 (on International Women’s Day) and stayed in post for three years. During that period she made every effort to get out and about to spend time with her offi cers on deployment, rather than staying behind her desk at headquarters. 

“Our places of deployment were mainly in Africa in countries such as Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan,” she says. “I went to virtually every mission at least once. The UN is a political organization and I really enjoyed my time there but it was sometimes a little frustrating when confronted with the bureaucracy. It took some time to learn how things worked and make sure all the member states were happy — you had to take your time and respect everyone’s perspectives — but I think I got pretty good at getting things done.” 

Seeing her teams hard at work in some of the world’s most challenging environments was crucial in broadening her horizons, it transpires. “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. I want a police officer to wake up and go to work at their police ‘service’, not their police ‘force’ as it changes the mind-set and sometimes it is the small things that make the big changes. And remember, the vast bulk of what a police officer does is about providing a service, not deploying force.” 

A life in policing

Her approach at the UN was based on her experiences as a senior police officer in Sweden for almost 20 years. “To be honest, I originally wanted to be an actress,” she admits. “But I got my law degree and then joined the police after my father saw an advert. I got into a three-year leadership training program which gave me experience of working with prosecutors, patrolling on the beat and much else. It was very good at giving me a wide range of experiences. You come out as a chief of police. I have never regretted joining the police as it has given me so much. Everyone has an opinion about the police and if I can help build trust among people I’m happy to do so. Police are such an important part of a democratic society, so it means you’re really in the heart of things and have a real opportunity to make society better for most people.” 

Her final role before moving to the UN was as County Commissioner for Västmanland, a county west of Stockholm. “I had a visit from some people from headquarters and they were asking about how to improve the process for Swedish police officers to work abroad and then return,” she recalls. “As we were talking they asked why I hadn’t applied for the post in the UN, which I hadn’t known about. The deadline was the next day so I stayed up until gone midnight completing the very complicated application form. A member of the delegation who visited me was traveling to New York the next day and so I gave him the papers and he hand-delivered them on my behalf.” 

Since moving back to Stockholm last year, Orler has been much in demand by her country’s police service. Shortly to become the Chief of Staff for the National Police Commissioner, she has been focusing on coordinating the liaison between the current police organization and the ongoing reforms to evolve 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. The public don’t really care — as long as they have police still on the beat is the main thing — but the main thing about this reform is to start building the organization from the bottom up. It doesn’t necessarily mean more police stations but more power is being planned to devolve to local police chiefs. No one will lose their job but the chain of command may end up being different. One thing we’re keen to address is that younger recruits these days tend to not commit to the police as a long-term career. They often move onto other jobs and leave the service. Obviously it’s good to move around and experience different jobs and responsibilities but it is noticeable how recruits born in the 1980s and 1990s, and those who have an academic degree, are much more willing to leave the service than their older counterparts. Hopefully these changes will encourage them to stay longer and put down some roots.” 

These domestic concerns will naturally be Orler’s immediate priority. But she is keen not to rule out another international job in the future. “Move abroad again? While I’m happy to be back in Sweden, I definitely wouldn’t rule it out if the right opportunity presented itself!”

This feature was first published in the April edition of EY's Citizen Today

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