Seizing the moment: rebuilding Georgia’s police

Princeton University This analysis is based in part on research conducted by Matthew Devlin and first published in May 2010 by Innovations for Successful Societies. The scoring assigned and the text below represents the Centre’s own work, however, and do not reflect the views of the case study authors, Innovations for Successful Societies, or Princeton University. Quotes included in the text come from interviews carried out in Georgia in May 2010.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Georgia had been known for its levels of corruption, especially in its police force. As a result of the ‘Rose Revolution’ of 2003, the government began a process of reform by sacking all the existing police and creating a smaller force of new recruits, with the help of the international community. The reformed police force became one of the most well-regarded institutions in the country.

The challenge

In 2003, the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia was one of the most corrupt countries in the world, coming near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption perception index (joint 124th out of 133).

The police force was reviled and mistrusted by the public, who saw it as a bastion of the government, receiving in return for its unwavering support a licence to indulge in corruption and criminality.

“A senior police official recalled that until the end of Shevardnadze’s presidency in 2003, ‘you could not drive 10 kilometres without at least a few traffic policemen stopping your car and asking for a couple of dollars bribe’.” [1] The structure of the crime prevention bodies was inefficient, with duplication of functions such as anti-narcotics and organised crime.

Then came the 2003 Rose Revolution, which “ushered in an era of unprecedented reform in the Republic of Georgia. Widespread dissatisfaction with the undemocratic and corrupt post-Soviet regime culminated in the 2004 election of Mikheil Saakashvili as president.” [2]

The initiative

Saakashvili and his cabinet decided to dissolve both the MSS and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and formally dismiss all the employees from both ministries, and create an entirely new MIA from the resulting unified candidate pool.

The government started with the traffic police and abolished the whole force in July 2004. The government fired around 30,000 police officers to create a new corruption-free force. Around 85 percent of the police, approximately 15,000 policeman within a day, were fired and the hiring of new staff began.

In October 2004, Saakashvili appointed Batu Kutelia to be deputy minister in the Ministry of State Security (MSS), a KGB-style intelligence agency. Kutelia was directed to dissolve the ministry by the end of the year. The overall objectives were:

  • “To restructure existing and conflicting ministries and agencies of police.
  • To re-staff the country’s corrupt and widely reviled police service and reduce corruption.”

The public impact

By 2006, Georgia had one law enforcement agent for every 214 citizens, compared with one for every 78 citizens before the reforms. By 2009, the reformed MIA had undergone such a revolutionary change that it ranked as the third most popular Georgian institution after the Georgian Orthodox Church and the army, according to a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute.

In 2015, Georgia ranked 48th out of 168 countries in the Corruption index. (After leaving office in 2013, and with a compromised reputation in Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili moved to the Ukraine and entered the political arena there.)

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.


Public Confidence Fair

Although Saakashvili’s government had achieved a landslide victory in 2004, an opinion poll carried out in 2005 showed “an approval rating of only 25 percent”. [6] This arose from uncertainty that though the government had strong political will to fulfil the promises during election but had neither the ability nor the means to stick to them. By 2006, an opinion poll indicated that only 38 percent of the electorate would vote for him. In the 2008 election, he won only 52 percent of the vote “in undemocratic circumstances” [7] on a low turnout.

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

The main internal stakeholders of the police reforms were: the president of Georgia; Kutelia, the deputy minister of state security in the MSS; and his colleagues in the MSS, the MIA and the Cabinet. The MSS devised the mechanism to merge MSS into the new unified MIA, while the MIA spent around USD4.7 million to buy all the equipment (including the vehicles, protective accessories, and weapons) for the force to be newly recruited.

The president and his cabinet set up a special vehicle, called the Law Enforcement Development Fund, to receive contributions from “patriotic businessmen” who wished to support their country’s reform efforts.

International agencies, such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the EU and the Soros Foundation, were also involved, e.g., in providing supplemental funding for police salaries.

A number of international police and justice organisations were involved, such as the UNOMIG CivPol international police contingent, the EU THEMIS Rule of Law mission, the Police and Human Rights Programme of the CoE.

The American, French and German embassies assisted the government in carrying out conclusions, recommendations and proposals for the police reform process. The American embassy helped create a new Patrol Police Command Centre and helped establish a centralised 24-hour dispatching system.

Political Commitment Strong

Saakashvili had the political momentum behind him to force through his reform agenda.  “Saakashvili had the political capital necessary to tackle the problem. He had won the January 2004 presidential election in a landslide ... Police reform was his administration’s signature initiative, the opening front in what his campaign had promised would be a government-wide anti-corruption crusade.” [3]

Eka Tkeshelashvili, a former deputy minister of internal affairs under Saakashvili and his national security adviser in 2009, was given broad discretion with little oversight, and stressed that his efforts “would never have found sufficient traction without the president’s strong and consistent endorsement of their reforms”. [4]

There was also little resistance from the president’s opponents. “Even Georgia’s political opposition, usually vocal critics of Saakashvili’s policies, could do little but praise the new [police] force.” [5]


Clear Objectives Good

The objective of the initiative was to curb corruption in police department of Georgia which was maintained throughout. “Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili targeted corruption in his first year of office". [8] The overall objectives were to restructure existing ministries and agencies of police and to re-staff the country’s police service.

Evidence Good

A pilot project was launched by deploying the newly-recruited force into the capital city, Tblisi:

  • “A pilot project was carried out in 2004, in which Patrol Police were deployed in the capital city, Tbilisi. [9]
  • “The pilot was largely successful, encountering relatively minor but unforeseen complications, for example bilingual markings which were put on new police cars after all-English wording sparked a brief nationalist outcry.
  • “The Tbilisi pilot project was expanded and gradually phased in across the country along major highways and in cities."

The Georgian police training gained from the UN’s initiative in Kosovo, “building on the manual that had been used to train the new Kosovo Police Service”. [10]

Feasibility Fair

While in the planning phase, the authorities were facing funding and staffing constraints. This eventually led the government to reach out to partners to raise the necessary funding.

In 2003, when the government was newly elected, the state budget was zero. Thus there were lack of necessary funds required for the reforms to be carried out.

A human resourcing concern was deciding who was to be fired and who retained during the integration of the MSS into the MIA. The training of newly-recruited staff also posed a challenge. As only percent of the newly-recruited officers were veterans, adequate training was a necessity for the remaining new staff. “The problem of hastily inducted recruits was compounded by a lack of subsequent in-service training. Thus the training issue still remained unresolved. This meant Police Academy graduates who had undergone expedited training courses climbed higher and higher on the managerial ladders as time went on, while their training remained rudimentary." [11]


Management Good

The managing body of police reform was part of the MIA. “The government formed an operational subgroup on ‘Police Authorities and Crime Prevention’ comprising fifteen representatives of the MIA. The subgroup was divided into a head, members, a council of experts (consisting of foreign advisors) and a bureau with specific tasks. This subgroup would elaborate recommendations on the proper structural organisation of the MIA and the execution of effective performance of police and public security functions.” [12]

Also, the management took steps that directly tackled corruption and malpractice. An innovative idea was that motorists should pay their traffic fines at banks rather than to an individual officer. This further helped to reduce corruption.

Measurement N/A

The initiative was to curb the corruption in the police service. Though the reform served to reduce corruption, there were no established mechanisms to measure the impact of the programme.

Alignment Good

The main actors in the police reforms cooperated well. President Saakashvili was supported by his deputy minister of state security in the MSS, Kutelia, and his colleagues in the MSS, the MIA and the Cabinet. The MSS and MIA worked together to merge MSS into the new unified MIA, while the MIA funded the purchase of equipment.

International agencies, such as the UNDP, the EU and the Soros Foundation combined to provide funding for police salaries.

A number of international police and justice organisations cooperated with the Georgian reformers, such as the UNOMIG CivPol international police contingent, the EU THEMIS Rule of Law mission, the Police and Human Rights Programme of the CoE.

The American, French and German embassies assisted the government in carrying out conclusions, recommendations and proposals for the police reform process. “The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Open Society Justice Initiative assisted in course development for the new recruits in police ... The US embassy, the EU’s Rule of Law programme, the British Council and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association assisted in this task.” [13]

Georgia’s political opposition, usually vocal critics of Saakashvili’s policies, praised the new police force.