Marines help reopen Iraqi police station

31 Jul 2003 | Spc. Benjamin R. Kibbey

When the Marines first went to the main police station here April 26 there were no police and the station -- like all public buildings -- was looted and burned, while vigilantes held a questionable grip on law and order.

Three months later, with local officials and representatives of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines in attendance, the local police force celebrated the official reopening of the main police station July 31 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Between April and July, personnel attached to the battalion got the police back to work and supplied them with vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and most importantly, training.

"When I got here, there was me and Gen. Abbas, and I had to track him down," said Sgt. Jeffrey Rand, 29, originally from Youngstown, Ohio, a Marine reservist 3rd Civil Affairs Group based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

General Abbas Fabhil is the Karbala police chief.

"This place was absolutely empty, no weapons, no cars, no radios, no cops," said Rand, now a Los Angeles police officer.  "The building was looted."

The civil affairs Marines began looking at the police stations throughout the town and found only one had not been looted, Rand said.

"Our first priority was to get the police back on the street, and start enforcing the law so people knew the police were back," he said.  "We talked with Gen. Abbas, and he made all the phone calls, and got them to return to work."

Once the police officers came back to the station, the Marines had to figure out how to equip them, as many did not even have their sidearms.

"Through weapon seizures that had been made, we made lists of serial numbers and began to distribute them to police," Rand said.  "Luckily, they still had their hand-held radios, and dispatch bases so they could dispatch people."

Due to looting and a lack of support to the area during the Saddam Hussein's former regime, there was a serious lack of police vehicles when the Marines arrived.

"Some of them took vehicles home to protect them from looters, but we still had only 15 vehicles throughout six substations and the main police station," Rand said.

To deal with the lack of transportation, the Marines began taking vehicles that had been seized and converted them into police cars, he said.

There was still much work to do.

"The police station looked disgusting, it looked like years of neglect, and it just looked like nobody cared," said Sgt. Nick Cione, 30, a member of Philadelphia-based 304th Army Civil Affairs Brigade, an Army Reserve unit that arrived in Karbala on May 15.

"This place had nobody, they started with Gen. Abbas, that's it, and through the team work of the public safety team, we're at the state right now were we can leave, and they can handle it."

"We've got the jail up and running," he said.  "The jail used to look like a dungeon, and now it has lighting, air conditioning, improved bars, improved plumbing, it's maintained and cleaned. There are separate cells for the women and the juveniles.  It was a complete overhaul."

With the police equipped with the essential tools of their trade, they still had to be trained.

"We wrote and implemented a training program," Rand said.  "We certified them as instructors, and eventually turned it over to them.

The 15 best students in the initial, Marine-led class were chosen to be instructors, as well as to be members of elite special police teams.

The training provided to the Iraqis by this program was comprehensive, spanning from basic skills to more advanced police tasks.

"We taught them patrol operation, defensive tactics, riot control, custody procedures, tactics, and cell extractions," Rand said.  "We worked with them every day for a few weeks.  We still do more advanced stuff with them, like high-risk warrant service."

"Jeff (Rand) had got them on their feet," said Cione, a police officer in his native Philadelphia. "What Jeff did was to turn the training portion over to me, and I would concentrate on the training, and Jeff did more of the administrative work."

"We went over the basics, everything from patrol tactics, self-defense, arrest tactics, and felony car stop," he added.

Joint patrols have resulted in more arrests and more weapons taken off the street.

"We had tankers selling stolen fuel in the streets," Rand said.  "We put an end to that by seizing five-to-six tankers a day, probably every day."

"(Karbala Protective Force) was a very powerful force in the city, and employing criminal tactics," he continued.  "We developed a plan with the Iraqi special teams to take out their main compounds.  We took down the compounds without any injury to anyone on our team."

With the help of the Marines, the Karbala police department has put together a stolen vehicle task force as well.

Cione based his teachings on his background as a police officer, he said.

"I had to improvise a lot, there was no police academy, so we did the training right here in a big room," he said.  "Everything was hands-on.  Jeff had already trained them, and I was getting some of those people and retraining them."

After the police were functioning, they needed a place to work and a place to contain people after they were arrested.

"Even inside the police station, the walls are painted, we've got electricity," Cione said.  "The wiring was pulled out by looters, and there never really was money put into here under Saddam."

Marine Sgt. Jorge Bayardo, 26, an officer for the Azusa, Calif. police department, and member of 3rd CAG, works with Rand and Cione. He said making the Karbala police into a functioning unit has been rewarding.

"We trained those guys, we taught them self defense, we took them out on patrols, and they did everything, we just told them when they did something wrong," he said.

"The best way to put it, in my personal opinion, it's like a baby," Bayardo said.  "We got it from scratch, and have pretty much seen it grow and now it's starting to walk."