Somali Police Force (SPF)
The Somali Police Force (SPF) grew out of police forces employed by the British and Italians to maintain peace during the colonial period. Both European powers used Somalis as armed constables in rural areas. Somalis eventually staffed the lower ranks of the police forces, and Europeans served as officers. The colonial forces produced the senior officers and commanders– including Siad Barre–who led the SPF and the army after independence.
In 1884 the British formed an armed constabulary to police the northern coast. In 1910 the British created the Somaliland Coastal Police, and in 1912 they established the Somaliland Camel Constabulary to police the interior. In 1926 the colonial authorities formed the Somaliland Police Force. Commanded by British officers, the force included Somalis in its lower ranks. Armed rural constabulary (illalo) supported this force by bringing offenders to court, guarding prisoners, patrolling townships, and accompanying nomadic tribesmen over grazing areas.
The Italians initially relied on military forces to maintain public order in their colony. In 1914 the authorities established a coastal police and a rural constabulary (gogle) to protect Italian residents. By 1930 this force included about 300 men. After the fascists seized power in Italy, colonial administrators reconstituted the Somali Police Corps into the Corpo Zaptié. Italian carabinieri commanded and trained the new corps, which eventually numbered approximately 800. During Italy’s war against Ethiopia, the Corpo Zaptié expanded to about 6,000 men.
In 1941 the British defeated the Italians and formed a British Military Administration (BMA) over both protectorates. The BMA disbanded the Corpo Zaptié and created the Somalia Gendarmerie. By 1943 this force had grown to more than 3,000 men, led by 120 British officers. In 1948 the Somalia Gendarmerie became the Somali Police Force.
After the creation of the Italian Trust Territory in 1950, Italian carabinieri officers and Somali personnel from the Somali Police Force formed the Police Corps of Somalia (Corpo di Polizia della Somalia). In 1958 the authorities made the corps an entirely Somali force and changed its name to the Police Force of Somalia (Forze di Polizia della Somalia).
In 1960 the British Somaliland Scouts joined with the Police Corps of Somalia to form a new Somali Police Force, which consisted of about 3,700 men. The authorities also organized approximately 1,000 of the force as the Darawishta Poliska, a mobile group used to keep peace between warring clans in the interior. Since then, the government has considered the SPF a part of the armed forces. It was not a branch of the SNA, however, and did not operate under the army’s command structure. Until abolished in 1976, the Ministry of Interior oversaw the force’s national commandant and his central command. After that date, the SPF came under the control of the presidential adviser on security affairs.
Each of the country’s administrative regions had a police commandant; other commissioned officers maintained law and order in the districts. After 1972 the police outside Mogadishu comprised northern and southern group commands, divisional commands (corresponding to the districts), station commands, and police posts. Regional governors and district commissioners commanded regional and district police elements.
Under the parliamentary regime, police received training and matériel aid from West Germany, Italy, and the United States. Although the government used the police to counterbalance the Soviet-supported army, no police commander opposed the 1969 army coup. During the 1970s, German Democratic Republic (East Germany) security advisers assisted the SPF. After relations with the West improved in the late 1970s, West German and Italian advisers again started training police units.
By the late 1970s, the SPF was carrying out an array of missions, including patrol work, traffic management, criminal investigation, intelligence gathering, and counterinsurgency. The elite mobile police groups consisted of the Darawishta and the Birmadka Poliska (Riot Unit). The Darawishta, a mobile unit that operated in remote areas and along the frontier, participated in the Ogaden War. The Birmadka acted as a crack unit for emergency action and provided honor guards for ceremonial functions.
In 1961 the SPF established an air wing, equipped with Cessna light aircraft and one Douglas DC-3. The unit operated from improvised landing fields near remote police posts. The wing provided assistance to field police units and to the Darawishta through the airlift of supplies and personnel and reconnaissance. During the final days of Siad Barre’s regime, the air wing operated two Cessna light aircraft and two DO-28 Skyservants.
Technical and specialized police units included the Tributary Division, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the Traffic Division, a communications unit, and a training unit. The CID, which operated throughout the country, handled investigations, fingerprinting, criminal records, immigration matters, and passports.
In 1961 the SPF established a women’s unit. Personnel assigned to this small unit investigated, inspected, and interrogated female offenders and victims. Policewomen also handled cases that involved female juvenile delinquents, ill or abandoned girls, prostitutes, and child beggars.
Service units of the Somali police included the Gadidka Poliska (Transport Department) and the Health Service. The Police Custodial Corps served as prison guards. In 1971 the SPF created a fifty-man national Fire Brigade. Initially, the Fire Brigade operated in Mogadishu. Later, however, it expanded its activities into other towns, including Chisimayu, Hargeysa, Berbera, Merca, Giohar, and Beledweyne.
Beginning in the early 1970s, police recruits had to be seventeen to twenty-five years of age, of high moral caliber, and physically fit. Upon completion of six months of training at the National Police Academy in Mogadishu, those who passed an examination would serve two years on the force. After the recruits completed this service, the police could request renewal of their contracts. Officer cadets underwent a nine-month training course that emphasized supervision of police field performance. Darawishta members attended a six-month tactical training course; Birmadka personnel received training in public order and riot control. After Siad Barre fled Mogadishu in January 1991, both the Darawishta and Birmadka forces ceased to operate, for all practical purposes.