Reaffirming our common security values

Reaffirming our common security values

Interview with Colonel Alain Bergonzoli, director of the Police Academy of Savatan, Switzerland.

Jpv. In the following interview, colonel Alain Bergonzoli, director of the Police Academy of Savatan (Valais), expresses himself on diverse security questions Switzerland and the rest of Europe are currently confronted to and describes the foundations of the police formation and the inherently connected human values.
During a visit of the Savatan Police Academy premises, located above Saint-Maurice in the Valais, “Current Concerns” had the opportunity to interview the director of this prestigious Academy in which most of the police forces of the French-speaking part of Switzerland and of the German-speaking part of the Valais are trained.
Every year, this Academy organises and conducts a school in which police candidates, constables and inspectors are trained to take up their duties in the cantons of Valais, Vaud and Geneva. The Academy is responsible for training 80% of the security forces in Swiss Romandy. Furthermore, several courses for public safety assistants are organised each year, numerous courses of continuous vocational training for people with a direct or indirect connection to the realms of security, justice, health and fire fighting services. The Academy also maintains close relations to the French National Gendarmerie as well as with other police training institutes in Europe. Moreover, it provides its know-how in cooperation projects conducted by Switzerland on all continents.

Current Concerns: Colonel Bergonzoli, what is your assessment of the current security situation in Europe?

Colonel Bergonzoli: The evolution of the world, the repetition of the crises, our apparent vulnerabilities in light of the most recent events – in particular during the tragic attacks that hit France, Belgium and Germany these last months – have shocked public opinion. In our Western societies, these events provoked questions and sometimes doubts about the security responses we are able to offer today.

Today, violence induced by Islamist terrorism spares nobody

Due to sociological, historical, political and legal factors, the security level is very high in our country: this could lead us to think that these violent phenomena might spare us. However, reality is different. Today, violence induced by Islamist terrorism spares nobody. Lying in the cultural and geographical heart of Europe, Switzerland has to face this new reality, alike its neighbours. We must learn – or relearn – to become resilient; to identify and to name the threats by their name, to shed light on all causes and to be prepared to eliminate a maximum of loopholes.
Security cannot be decreed and can never be entirely achieved. It is built up and consolidated on a daily basis and adapts itself to society transformations, whatever these transformations might be. To be aware of this is a good start for a resilience process.

The border-guards at the Swiss-Italian borders strictly implement the relevant legal previsions

Hundreds of refugees and migrants have recently been accumulating in Como, near to the Swiss-Italian borders. In our country, some ask for military intervention to ensure a better border control whilst others demonstrate in front of the Federal Palace in Bern in favour of letting these people into Switzerland. Which rules apply here? What is your assessment with regards to this situation?

This situation is the result of the migration phenomena on a European scale. For Switzerland, other choices are available than strictly applying our legal provisions. It is the responsibility of the authorities, however, to adapt the legal provisions if they deem necessary to do so due to the extraordinary circumstances. With regards to the law enforcement forces – in this case the border-guards, who by the way are very well prepared and trained – they shall implement the relevant legal provisions to the letter.
It seems like the appraisals portrayed in the media resemble more to a duel between dialecticians who aim at influencing the legal framework in place. Anyway, we are just at the beginning of these phenomena: we are in a situation, in which an effective training of the law enforcement community is necessary, for they need to apply the law humanly but strictly.

We will certainly come back to the security situation in Switzerland and in its neighbouring countries. Could you now please elaborate on Savatan’s concept?

The existence of the Police Academy of Savatan is no coincidence. Twelve years ago, three elements fostered the creation of our Academy. On the one hand, there was the political will to unify the police training by certifying it through a Federal diploma; and on the other hand, the lessons learnt during the security engagements within the 2003 G8 Summit in Lausanne. These past experiences have showed the limits of an effective collaboration of police forces, military police and army due to loopholes in the training. Eventually, at the same time, the army and its mountain infantry troops left their former premises and fortifications in Savatan.

Synergy in terms of security between military and civil police forces

The above-mentioned elements lead to the idea of “SYNERSEC”; a synergy of civil and military police forces for security. For this reason, the Academy has been training police candidates for the cantons of Valais and Vaud since twelve years, but also the military security agents and transport police and the Public Security Assistants (PSA) from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Since the beginning of this year, Savatan also welcomes police candidates from Geneva. A “Rhodanien”1 Police Academy that thus provides 80% of the basic training in the Swiss Romandy.

What are your objectives?

The political authorities have established an agenda for 2020–2022: to create a legal entity for an autonomous Police Academy, gathering the three cantons of Valais, Vaud and Geneva, in partnership with the Confederation. This initiative should also clarify the question of the ownership of the area: acquire a right to the area or to become owner and buying the infrastructure of Savatan and other installations in the lowland.

Very high professional competences in the field of security

What are the challenges of this initiative?

I can identify two challenges: the first one, with respect to our mission, is that we always need to improve the quality of our formation. In Switzerland, we are thinking about strengthening our basic training by creating a dual training system: a development that would prolong the practical formation process. The second challenge is economic: one must insure that the Academy is cost-efficient. To achieve healthy solvency we plan to offer to the private economic sector good quality formations in the realm of security and also reinforce our collaborations abroad. We dispose of very high professional skills in our country in the domain of security: we must export them! The Police Academy already pursues this with France, Germany, certain countries of central Europe like Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland. Yet, important developmental potential remains unexplored in this domain.  

The fundamental question of values in the centre

I would like to hear more about the three domains of Savatan’s instructions; I mean the pedagogical, the military and police domains. How do you bind these together? How do you integrate them into the basic training?

Obviously, these three domains complement each other. We achieved the creation of a coherent concept based on the strengths of each domain, and thereof we place the fundamental question of values in the centre.
Today, police candidates are no longer obliged to do their military service before they integrate a police academy. I personally regret this as the military formation in Switzerland represents a very strong educational base with much added value.
The recent events in France, Belgium and Germany showed how important it was for the security forces to be able to respond adequately and in proportion to any types of threats.
With respect to our educational doctrine, our strength is that our approach is very down to earth and applied, based on a precisely written and rigorous planning. We probably enjoy, in our country, the best instruction documents in Europe. Our instructors and teachers are all prepared to the most modern ways of teaching and place the learner at the top of the goals they need to achieve. Due to the excellent level of instruction our candidates get, we can easily heighten the level of expectations set at the beginning of the formation year.
In crisis situations, the foundations of the necessary responses are based on components of military doctrine. We have to recognise this and accept it. To deny this could generate a loophole when, for example, a police officer does not have the means to react in an acute crisis situation against a strongly armed and militarised adversary.

Our formation must be based on substantiated and practical experience

In the domain of policing, we work with direct feedback from experiences on the ground. The times of long classroom and shooting range theories, that actually should have been physical, are over. Our formation must be based on substantiated and practical experience. The development of watch-keeping capacities is essential through the lived experiences of the past and one must be able to analyse problems in a legal, technical, tactical, psychological and ethical manner throughout the entire police candidate school.  
One could find Kalashnikovs in the trunk of a car today. The policeman thus has to master the most relevant and subtle intervention tactics. These are tactics and technics that cannot simply be improvised but that one has to learn. The intervention policeman therefore has to be formed in consequence. He has to learn this very specific and complex professional knowledge in a pedagogical environment as near as possible to the operational realities.

To always be ready to face massive violence phenomena

What are these operational realities you mentioned?

The facts are visible. We have to always be ready to face massive violence phenomena. Fact is that armed delinquents are more and more determined, terrorists who are involved in blind mass-killings, terrorists with selective objectives hitting individuals or facilities. The response to such facts is a rapid and precise response capable to eliminate the threat.

How do you prepare your police candidates to these realities?

The most important aspect is the transmission of values. In the Police Academy of Savatan values guide all our enterprises, notwithstanding the themes of the instructions. In this sense, our oath’s text has a lot to say about this. My role is to ensure that it is understood correctly; how can one put it into practice? What a citizen expects from a future policeman are a steady engagement, keeping one’s word, rigor, respect of the hierarchy, respecting and pursuing the mission, making sense of the uniform: the authority “lent” and delegated by the State. A policeman cannot enforce order if not ordered himself.
We of course cultivate values like group cohesion that prevail individualist behaviours. It is an art to reconcile these values without opposing them. One could illustrate this idea with a dish that needs to be salted: too much salt is uneatable; not enough is bland, whereas the just middle gives a delicious result. The pursuit of the balance between all values is our daily preoccupation and priority. This is teamwork.

The primary meaning of the Police’s mission: protect and serve

What qualities are required to be a policeman today?

With a sense of discernment, courage goes back to being the primary quality. To risk one’s life to protect the life of others requires self-sacrifice and a very high sense of courage. Some people think that the relational aspect prevails all other qualities. I do not. Let’s understand each other well – I do not put these two qualities in opposition. I note, unfortunately, that the recent events proved me right. One must recall the primary meaning of the police’s mission: serve and protect. A policeman has to be impeccable in his manner to enforce the laws and, through his behaviour, bring the citizen to immediately understand the meaning of his actions.

Following the events of Paris, Brussels, Istanbul and Nice, should we rethink the police formation?

These attacks predict a long and difficult struggle. To combat this phenomenon will take time. Rather than speak of days, we should speak of years. For our society that lives in the immediacy, it will be tiring. The current situation sheds light on the necessity to develop all possible synergies between different police forces. Regarding that point, the German model is interesting: it allows the police forces to rise and achieve a maximum capacity with the availability of centralised resources, although respecting the autonomy of the Länder.

Fighting terrorism necessitates prevention, protection and intervention

According to you, what measures should we take to fight terrorism?

Similarly to violent viruses, the fight against terrorism necessitates three types of measures: prevention, protection and intervention.
As for prevention, Switzerland’s federal structure makes the country very efficient. It knows its citizens and their concerns. Detecting people in breach with the society’s values is in principle facilitated. Facing a terrorist threat, besides the research of intelligence, it is question of dissuading certain hostile actions by the reinforcing of protective measures. If we have the possibility to rise in the domain of protection, the limit lies in the amount of available workforces able to be engaged durably.
As for intervention, Switzerland is well equipped when compared internationally. For heightening that level we have to question ourselves on the personal equipment, the weaponry, the ammunitions and the reinforcement of the formation in certain specific areas.

What are you thinking about specifically?

With regards to the police response, we refer the concept of “first responders”. This concept, in breach with another one based on closure (security perimeter, observation etc.) waiting for specialised intervention groups like RADD (Rapid Action and Dissuasion Detachment, Vaud), IG (Intervention Group of Romandy) or RAID (Research, assistance, intervention, dissuasion, France).
This concept is certainly the adequate response to the current threat. But there are many diverse consequences: it obliges us to reconsider the human in his recruiting, in his initial and continuous formations. It requires the equipment and the weaponry to be adapted. It brings us to rethink the territorial meshing of the security forces. It obliges the strengthening of our action culture, with a refocus of hearts and minds towards the prevalence of the mission. Eventually, this concept necessitates a repositioning in the hierarchy, which has to be a hierarchy of decision and action.

Tomorrow’s crises will be of another nature

What are the threats to come?

Today, obviously, other phenomena are threatening the security in our country and the population: cyber-criminality and public disorder.
Cyber-threats, or cyber-criminality are a reality. They generate tremendous costs and losses in our societies. Tomorrow’s policemen, wherever assigned, will have to understand and know how to respond to such attacks affecting citizens, companies and institutions. This necessitates the adapted formation to these realities of the virtual world.
As for public disorders, they are, very fortunately, not very frequent in our country.  But are we really safe and if yes, for how long? There, an adequate formation of the policeman is also indispensable. Even more particularly because our country does not dispose of permanent security forces dedicated to these types of engagements.
The Police Academy of Savatan with the Group for order maintenance (GMO) have understood the necessity to invest time in the personnel and the managers in this always-delicate mission of maintenance of public order. In 2003, the Evian Summit or G8 Summit was a perfect illustration of the necessity to professionally prepare the managing of public disorder.
Tomorrow’s crises will be of another nature.  The public safety professionals know it well: society is never permanently balanced. And it remains the law enforcement force’s difficult task to restore social peace, when it is degraded. For the police, using force is a great responsibility.
Hence, I note with satisfaction that the partnership if the Police Academy of Savatan with the Centre national d’entraînement des forces de gendarmerie (CNEFG), Saint-Astier, France, is a good example of synergy exchange. Since 2012 now, some courses of our school for the police candidates are held in the CNEFG. This illustrates clearly the common will to develop this kind of formation.

Learnings from the New Year’s Eve in Cologne

With regards to public disorders, I think of the German example: on the New Year’s Eve 2015/16, women were sexually assaulted en masse by a large number of organized migrants in Cologne and other German cities. The police had been ordered not to intervene by the political authorities. Neither when Cologne’s Cathedral was attacked with fireworks and soiled with faeces, while inside was held a religious service. Do such events not endanger some fundamental values? Is it also a conceivable situation in our country?

According to several well informed German newspapers, some 2000 men with mostly North African origins have aggressed 1200 women on New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne, Hamburg and other German cities. A chocking situation regarding both the amplitude of the offenses committed and the extreme hatred feeling that they express. Yet this situation, that seems unrealistic, sheds light on several challenges that our western societies are facing. Indeed, how to combine active prevention, credible dissuasion and a proportional repression in such a chaotic context?
The stakes are not only connected to security. Neither are they lying in strategic decisions the police forces need to implement. But the stakes are societal. They are based on one single major challenge: promoting the balance and the respect of living together.
The police must now integrate into its thinking – and thus in the formation of its relief – the threats and risks of this type, unimaginable a few months ago. One example: in the whole of Europe this year, the authorities in charge of festive events during summer had to put concrete blocks on roads to diminish the risks of “crazy lorries” (tragedy of Nice).
In Switzerland, we are for the time being certainly spared by these violent phenomena. But nevertheless, we cannot put our heads in the sand: we must prevent and deter. And on a repressive level, we need to have adequate intervention plans to prevent the emergence of a chaotic situation. But it is clear that in some regions of our country, our operational capabilities seem poorly suited to these new types of interventions: as well when it comes to the training of police, as to workforce and equipment.

The Swiss citizen knows how to mobilise when he feels in danger

Do you think that the Swiss population is ready to face the current threats?

Our country has been spared from the two World Wars and enjoys since several years, an unprecedented period of stability in its history. This has allowed an economic development envied worldwide. We do not endure the social tensions and divisions that suffer many countries around us.
This near-idyllic situation can generate a feeling of eternal peace within our population. The notion of conflict or deteriorating situation becomes completely abstruse. Thus, one might well think that in cases of acute crisis, the citizen would be unable to adopt the right answers and the right postures to face the threat.
However, I think that the Swiss citizen knows how to mobilize, when he feels in danger and it can even become admirably resilient. This however does not mean we should not question ourselves and prepare thoroughly.
Today’s threats are everywhere, but the front is nowhere. The opponent is considered to be mutant and hybrid. He is able to act at the heart of our cities, as nothing is able to warn us.
Moreover, today’s wars are of a new genre, what justifies that we mobilize opinions and we reaffirm our shared values of defence and protection. It is not a fall-back position, but rather an awakening and resilience posture. A posture that results in a comprehensive approach of security, respectively the state’s security and the security of its people. A posture that requires appropriate means on a political, security and military level.
Our country must remember and act.

Colonel, thank you warmly for this interview.

(Interview by Jean-Paul Vuilleumier)

1     “Rhodanien” means the region where the river Rhone flows or its valley.

“The policeman acts the way he is trained. One must thus train him how he has to act”

The Director’s Word

To serve society and protect the citizen!

This is the difficult yet noble profession to which the Savatan Police Academy prepares engaged men and women.
Today, the police is a necessity. Our social environment is characterized by complex and unpredictable situations. The police officer is at the heart of society, he is at the heart of our society.
To be a good police officer, you must certainly acquire professional skills. But it is not enough to be an expert of the judicial police, community police and rescue police, to be an expert of shooting or of traffic rules ... You must first be able to adapt in all circumstances in every moment of life. The future police officer must therefore acquire the cultural tools essential to his integration into society.
Alongside the expertise provided through education, the future police officer will then receive throughout his training a sum of values like to “know how to be”, notably individual responsibility, courage, a sense of common well-being. In short, a real police culture reflecting the “Reflaction”, reflection before action.
By coating for the first time his uniform, the police candidate, policeman or inspector voluntarily chooses this sum of values that will influence his action. Values that will become, from the very beginning of one’s formation at the Academy of Savatan, those of the candidate himself.
Tomorrow, the responsibility of the future police officer will be reality. Because our fellow citizens express huge expectations on the role, the responsibility and the commitment of policemen regarding safety.
Tomorrow, the future police officer must have the strength to believe in his convictions, to tap into the values chosen and accepted, the strength to act with proportionality and finally the strength to remain human in all circumstances.
Tomorrow, the future police officer will enter the ranks of a constituted corps. A corps in which the principles are always the same: loyalty and “militarity”.
Loyalty to his superiors is not an act of concession: it must express itself naturally, with pride and cohesion.
As for the “militarity” it is a source of dedication, availability, cohesion and strength. This is a moral posture that makes the individual go further in the service of people and the homeland.
After his training at the Police Academy, the police candidate, policeman or inspector will then know how to do his craft. But even more so, he will be impregnated with the reason for his commitment: to serve society and protect the citizen.

Alain Bergonzoli,


Police Oaths

Oath from Valais

“I swear, in the name of God, to be faithful to the Constitution, to obey my superiors in my service, to accomplish faithfully all duties that are mine and that are imposed by the law the rules connected to my service, to keep the secrets that are confided to me, to refuse any donations that may influence the execution of my duties and to use legal force only to maintain law and order.”

Oath from Vaud

“You promise to be faithful to the Federal Constitution and to the Cantonal Constitution of Vaud. You promise to maintain and defend at all occasions and by all means, the rights, the freedom and the independence of the country, to provide and to advance one’s honour and profit, as well as prohibiting that which could harm or destroy it. You promise moreover to perform your duties with best conscience and to fulfil with zeal, diligence and loyalty the missions that are imposed, to strictly adhere to the law, to maintain and observe a severe discipline, to obey scrupulously and punctually to orders from superiors and eventually to adhere to the absolute secret of things.”  
(Translation Current Concerns)

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