“Plan for the worst. Expect the best”

After spending a year at EUPOL COPPS, José Miguel Santos, from Lisbon, Portugal has returned to his home country, where he is currently working at the Police Sciences Research Centre at the Police Academy. Alongside his job, he is completing a PhD at the University of Lisbon at the Faculty of International Relations on the EU’s police and rule of law missions. He started the PhD in 2017 and naturally therefore, when offered the chance last year to see the work of EU Missions firsthand, he leapt at the opportunity and joined EUPOL COPPS for a yearlong deployment as a Training Adviser.

In this function, he supported the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP) and the Palestinian College for Policing Sciences (PCPS) to develop and enhance training curricula for current and future police officers. He also provided training in areas that he has expertise in, such as strategic planning and public order policing.

His deployment recently ended, but he has maintained contact with his Palestinian counterparts. “It was an amazing experience,” he says. “I miss the culture, I miss the very nice relationship that we developed with the trainers from the PCPS. It’s the most important thing when we talk about advising - building a trustful relationship”.

Santos says his Palestinian counterparts made him feel at home very quickly. “The Palestinian counterparts were warm in their welcome. I love the Palestinians, because in many ways they are similar to the Portuguese. Five thousand kilometres away, but still similar. The partners were very keen on learning new things and finding out about policing methods from Europe”.

As an adviser on training, he advocated for a modernisation of the basic curriculum used to train new recruits in the police, in particular arguing for an increased focus on human rights and gender issues. “Currently, there is nothing in the basic curriculum about gender. Human rights training could be developed further within the police academy,” the Portuguese police officer says.

Human rights is an area that Santos has focused on a great deal in his career, particularly when working in the Anti-Riot Unit, policing demonstrations and riots – a job he did for almost seven years at the beginning of his career. His Palestinian partners were particularly keen to learn from real life examples, and Santos particularly vividly remembers leading a unit of 90 police officers while on duty during a demonstration numbering 400,000 people.

“You could hear the crowd. You feel so small. The crowd has the legal right to express themselves. So, they have the right to be there and we have to respect this most of all. And we have to do our job. You need to control yourself – we trained for this every day. You need to communicate well, plan for the worst, and expect the best. We don’t expect to intervene in the crowd – a direct intervention has the most impact, not only on the protestors, but also the reputation of the police.”

During his time at EUPOL COPPS, Santos also advised on how to ensure a training successfully meets its objectives. “We provided support for training strategies and training methods – how to plan a training, how to assess it, how to improve it, lessons learnt”.

Now, Santos is back at the police academy in Lisbon, and hopes to deliver his PhD in 2021. After that? He doesn’t know. “EUPOL COPPS was my first international Mission – I will keep a lot of friends. It was a wonderful experience and hopefully I will repeat it someday – I think I have caught the bug of international Missions!”

NB: Please note that the photo was taken during a training session at the end of 2019, before the emergency measures related to Covid-19 came into force