Police Academy 2, Back in Iraq

31 May 2003 | Army Staff Sgt. David Bennett

The 13 men dressed in different attire pressed against the wall waiting for the silent signal to tell them to rush into the room. From another wall, one man in uniform watched intently.

"Get back, get back," shouted Army Sgt. Jerry F. Ojeda, as he herded them back against the wall again after a botched entry attempt.

Ojeda, a reservist from Queens assigned to the 442nd Military Police Co., is one of a dozen instructors teaching current Iraqi police officers basic police techniques so they can bring their newly-gained knowledge to the streets of An Najaf.

This month, instructors at the newly formed An Najaf Police Academy are adding a second phase to the course so police students can become more skillful on the job and more accepted in the community, said 1st Lt. Anthony V. Green, a Bronx native who helped craft the program a month ago.

So far, he has gotten positive feedback from local residents about the academy, which was started with the help of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. The mayor of An Najaf also has given the program his support, and has attended every graduation ceremony.

"The challenge was to get everyone to recognize each other and get to work with each other," Green said.

The academy has completed nine classes since its inception in May and has graduated 775 students. According to Green, most of those students will come back to participate in the second phase of instruction designed to make them more visible and accessible to the public.

Almost all of the instructors are New York police officers and firefighters, who came to the public forefront during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As New York's finest, they are translating those skills to the fledging Iraqi force.

However, rebuilding the police force is a formidable task. For years the Iraqi police was perceived as corrupt and was feared under the displaced regime of Saddam Hussein.

"One goal in community policing is to instill trust," Green said. "These are some advanced skills they will learn."

For the police in southern Iraq to become more effective, he said, it will require more community interaction. Green envisions patrol officers working specific beats that will take them into schools, banks, fuel points, and election sites daily.

Other instruction during the second phase includes advanced search techniques, basic law, crowd control, first aid, self-defense, special patrol operations, traffic control and police tactics. The curriculum covers 12 separate classes compared to eight basic instruction blocks taught in the first, two-day course.

In the second phase, which is spread over four days, students will undergo a battery of tests to assess their math and computer skills, physical conditioning and ability to speak English. This will enable evaluators to offer data on which officers should be assigned where.

The information will be a tool for the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which will oversee all police training activities, according Green.

More complex issues are being addressed as well.

Traditionally low wages had left many police officers susceptible to bribes. Academy instructors attempt to create a different mindset among those attending.

"When we tell them not to take money, they are not receptive at first," said Spc. James M. Meehan of Queens, N.Y.

Instead the academy students are told that the law they are hired to enforce isn't a bartering system. They are taught that police officers who take advantage of the citizens will wind up behind bars themselves.

Mohammed Tarish Nima, a participant who hopes to join the An Najaf police, said he finds the instruction valuable.

"It's a good training academy," Nima said, referring to the hands-on environment. "There is intimacy between the students and the instructors."

Green said the academy is being extended to Kerbala and hopes to see it offered all around southern Iraq.