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The Police System

Throughout its prerevolutionary history, the mission and operating concepts underlying the Libyan police system were the same as those in many other Muslim societies. The traditional concept of police or shurtah was a broad one. Because the shurtah were used from time to time by the government in power to undertake new conquests, security force commanders often had full-sized armies at their disposal. Domestically, however, the shurtah were primarily responsible for suppressing dissidence and insurrections as well as performing other internal security duties. The latter duties typically embraced the kinds of administrative and judicial functions often required of urban and rural police, such as the prevention of crime, investigation and arrest of criminals, and maintenance of public order. Some of these concepts have survived in present-day Libya; others have been altered in response to the changing needs of the society.

Shortly after the 1969 coup, military officers were temporarily integrated into key police positions to guard against a countercoup. A complete reorganization of the police followed over the next three years. An early step in the process of stripping the police of paramilitary status was the consolidation of the regional police forces into a unified organization under the Ministry of Interior. In 1971 new separate agencies to handle civil defense and fire protection were provided for by law. Ministerial decrees established other units, such as the Central Traffic Department, the Central Department for Criminal Investigation, the Arab International Criminal Police Bureau, the Ports Security Department, the Identity Investigation, and the Police Training Department. A special police law promulgated by the RCC in January 1972 spelled out the new functions of the police force, which was formally redesignated the Police at the Service of the People and the Revolution. The police were specifically charged with responsibility for "the administration of prisons, civil defense activities, passport and nationality affairs, identity card affairs, and other functions set forth by laws and bills."

Individual police units were under the jurisdiction of regional security directorates throughout the country, with primary responsibility for enforcing the laws and administering the police falling under the minister of interior and his deputy. A special police affairs council--composed of the deputy minister as chairman, the directors of the central police department, the regional chiefs, and a legal adviser--was empowered to coordinate activities of various police branches and to issue decrees on police matters.

Police ranks followed closely those of the armed forces. An officer candidate had to be a Libyan citizen at least twenty years of age, of good conduct and behavior, in good physical condition, and not married to a foreigner. He also had to be a graduate of the police academy. Police work was considered a prestigious occupation, and its attractive working conditions and benefits reportedly produced well-qualified applicants who underwent stiff competition for vacancies. However, standards may have deteriorated as more lucrative opportunities in the oil industry and in government became available for those with sufficient education.

In a counterpart to the media attacks on the professional military in 1983, the official Libyan press targeted the police as lacking revolutionary zeal. The press demanded greater direct responsibility for the masses in protecting the people's security. Articles was recalled that the police were descended from the mobile forces of the Idris regime, headed by "fascist, bourgeois officers" who had suppressed all manifestations of discontent with the royalist system. Police officials were accused of engaging in licentious behavior, of drinking liquor, and of carrying on illegal businesses. They were charged with being "feudalistic" in their behavior, of being ill-educated because many lacked a high- school diploma, and often unfit for duty because of advancing age.

Declaring that "security is the responsibility of the people as a whole in the same way as the defense of the homeland is," Qadhafi announced in 1985 that the police would henceforward be known as the People's Security Force. Whether this name change accomplished much seemed doubtful; the official press complained that all that had happened was that signs over the police stations now read "People's Security Station."

Data as of 1987

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