Where to next for the JCLEC?

For thirteen years, the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) has served as a regional rally point for much needed counterterrorism capacity development and cooperation. Since its inception in 2004 with strong bilateral support from the Australian Government, JCLEC’s operating and donor environments have evolved considerably. Regional partners and donors are now considering JCLEC’s future and there are some big decisions to be made. The most pressing is whether JCLEC should become a truly regional body or an Indonesian government institution.

The Indonesia National Police (POLRI) and Australian Federal Police (AFP)—as well as the various donor countries—must now collectively determine how JCLEC should be managed, what it should be doing, and who should pay for its activities.

JCLEC was created by Canberra and Jakarta in the wake of the POLRI’s 2002 Bali Bombing investigation. That investigation exposed weaknesses in Indonesia’s capacity to successfully investigate and disrupt terrorist networks. In 2004, the AFP and POLRI agreed to establish a joint training school to further enhance Indonesia’s capacity to respond to transnational crime and terrorism. From the beginning, JCLEC was to focus on regional issues.

Along the way, JCLEC’s role has been further strengthened by the 2006 Lombok Treaty, the 2011 Indonesian National Police Arrangement on Cooperation in Preventing and Combating Transnational Crime, and the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding on Combating International Terrorism.

Almost 20,000 officials from 70 countries have trained at the centre since 2004. The capacity of many ASEAN police forces to undertake complex terror and criminal investigations has been dramatically improved by JCLEC training. These improvements were particularly evident in the aftermath of the 2016 terrorist attacks in Jakarta and Thailand. On both occasions, national police demonstrated that they no longer needed international assistance with post-attack investigations.

As of 1 March 2016 a new program renewal agreement between the AFP and POLRI was signed with changed governance arrangements and a more equal resource-sharing commitment. The Indonesian National Police will now take a greater role in JCLEC’s management; and there have been signals that POLRI will be seeking to integrate JCLEC into the country’s broader law enforcement training regime.

One of the questions being asked by some national and multinational donors is whether the current bilateral AFP and POLRI administrative framework prevents JCLEC from being a major player when it comes to regional counterterrorism and law enforcement cooperation.

From an Australian perspective the police-to-police relationship between POLRI and the AFP has been in decline for a number of years. The memories of the strong operational cooperation between POLRI and AFP on terror investigations into bombings in Bali and Jakarta (the Australian Embassy and the Ritz Carlton) are fading, and with this the trusted personal relationships so important within ASEAN. Without these relationships the AFP will find it difficult to translate into action the polite yet often noncommittal nods given in bilateral dialogues between Australia and Indonesia.

While JCLEC grew out of a close bilateral partnership, it’s steadily evolved in the direction of a regionalised model. The Centre has played an important role in gathering together regional partners to create the low-key informal relationships of trust that make police-to-police cooperation possible. But as the POLRI–AFP experience has demonstrated, these relationships need continuous renewal.

It would be ill-advised to nationalise JCLEC at a time when the terrorism threat in the region is growing. ASEAN has to contend with multiple active terrorist groups, and Indonesia is fighting domestic terror networks affiliated with Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Bilateral and multilateral law enforcement cooperation on terrorism will remain vitally important. Put simply, ASEAN member states still need JCLEC as it remains one of the only policy mechanisms fostering operational law enforcement cooperation.

While some in POLRI see the nationalisation of JCLEC as a positive move, Indonesia stands to benefit more from the creation of a truly regional institution that promotes closer cooperation and understanding. There’s a clear alternative to making a binary decision between the ‘nationalisation’ of JCLEC or maintaining the ‘status quo’. JCLEC could seek greater ASEAN and ASEANAPOL engagement. That could be achieved through such measures as appointing the ASEANAPOL Commissioner as a JCLEC Patron and an ASEAN representative to the Board of Supervisors.

Critics of an ASEANAPOL management model will argue that ASEANAPOL has, to date, done little to encourage meaningful regional cooperation. But JCLEC’s flexible, ad-hoc funding and operating models could act as the catalyst for ASEANAPOL to play a more meaningful role in regional law enforcement cooperation.

As the region’s domestic law enforcement capacity has improved, JCLEC’s training regime also needs to evolve. While there’ll always be a regional demand for basic investigations and intelligence, disaster victim identification, and bomb data analysis training, the new terror environment demands new skills. Decryption, computer forensics, financial analysis, social media web-scraping and big data analytics present new challenges to police across Southeast Asia.

In a time of global fiscal austerity, the big question for stakeholders is who will pay for JCLEC. Australia remains the biggest single donor. Comprehensive capacity development programs are becoming more difficult financial propositions for donor countries and multilateral organisations alike. JCLEC’s flexible course structures and teaching systems have allowed multiple donors to fund and teach numerous specialised courses in communications, general and financial investigations, intelligence and forensics, and more recently cybersecurity. JCLEC’s current funding model isn’t without its challenges, but it does provide an agile mechanism for burden-sharing between donors.

Southeast Asian law enforcement cooperation at both bilateral and multilateral levels still has a long way to go. The next stage in JCLEC’s evolution should be a decisive step towards further regionalisation to ensure that benefits are shared across ASEAN.