“We need to be very creative and flexible – now more than ever”

Pasi Aho started his role as Head of EUPOL COPPS’ Police Advisory Section on 1 August in quarantine. For someone who loves powerwalking, running and sport in general, this was a tough start to the new job, though he understands the importance of protecting the public from Covid-19. He expects that the next months will include many challenges for him and his team, but luckily, he enjoys challenges.

“We need to be very creative and flexible – now more than ever,” says Aho. “We are here to support our Palestinian counterparts and this requires that we step out of our comfort zone. We need to make a ‘new normal’ for routines, and work in shifts – some in the office, some at home, and protect the health of colleagues and the people they come into contact with. In practice, this means that advisers will need to be prepared to cover other areas, not just those in their job description”.

“We are all facing the same situation – there are the same problems around the world”, he adds. Asked about what advice EUPOL COPPS advisers can give their Palestinian counterparts about fighting Covid-19, Aho so stresses, “We don’t have a ready-made model on how to deal with Covid-19 – it’s a learning process. No country has a model”.

While stressing that there is no readily available model, given the short amount of time law enforcement agencies have lived with the Covid-19 pandemic, Aho gives some examples of strategic decisions being made in his native Finland. “In Finland, we’ve temporarily redeployed units from issues such as road traffic policing to concentrate on Covid-19”. Sharing of practices developed in other EU countries will support the Palestinian Civil Police to develop their own strategies.

Before being seconded by the Finnish authorities to EUPOL COPPS, Aho worked as a Chief Superintendent in the Ostrobothnia Police Department in the west of Finland. He has worked for the police for over 30 years. In his capacity as Chief Superintendent, he oversaw the implementation of two major police reforms in his region, which helped the police to be more efficient and allocate greater resources to the fight against crime.

Aho believes these reforms strengthened his managerial skill, and helped to contribute to “a cooperative, and result-oriented management style”. Speaking about the reforms, he says, “The reforms were not an easy task. Not all our staff liked them – there was always a resistance. But after we finished the exercise, people noticed that this was a good idea. By merging police districts, we have more manpower, and our response times to emergency calls came down”. He also notes the importance of communication in successful reform, “We had a lot of information packages, meetings, articles on the intranet, all kinds of information on what would happen”.

The new Head of the Police Advisory Section has done two international placements previously – in Lebanon and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is happy to be back in the Middle East. “The Middle East is fascinating. The culture, the habits. I’ve been following the Middle East all my life”. He mentions that he is looking forward to exploring “old buildings, local food, I’m really eager to get to know this.” Though his experiences in Lebanon mean that he is less keen on experiencing another rainy Middle East winter!

In terms of the support he expects to deliver to the Palestinian Civil Police, he notes that he is still new to the role, but is keen to support greater mentoring efforts, as well as supporting human rights and gender issues. 

“As a Mission, we are moving towards more mentoring individuals in the Palestinian Civil Police, and that’s the sort of progress I like to see,” Aho says. “When we are mentoring, we help our strategic counterparts to do more by themselves. We try and push them forward on an individual level. High level mentoring of police leaders means we have strategic level counterparts, and we are pushing them forward. They take more of a role for themselves”.

On human rights and gender the Finnish superintendent says, “This must come from their own will. I think the Mission done a good job in basics – is has given basic training in many areas, like information-led policing, community policing. Now we need to mentor the leaders to understand the big picture – and integrate human rights, gender and accountability, so we can move to a higher level”.

He wonders whether the mechanisms within the police for reporting human rights abuses could be strengthened. “If a police officer sees something that is not right, there should be a way that this can be brought to attention, including anonymously”.

On gender, Aho states that greater representation of women in the police would improve the quality of the service that is provided, “Half of the population are women, so they need to be served. Sometimes women would prefer to report a crime to a female officer. We would like to support a system that encourages women to apply for management level positions or even to the police in the first place”.

Soon Aho’s quarantine will end and he’ll be able to go powerwalking and running again, and he says he hopes he can find a gym for the winter months. The quarantine hasn’t been all bad though, “I’m using the quarantine to read up on Mission papers”. When he starts meeting counterparts, he’ll certainly be prepared.