AN NAJAF, Iraq -- The police officers in An Najaf, Iraq are walking a little straighter and with a little more pride after the Marines delivered the first shipment of modern law enforcement equipment to local police July 25.
The 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment's governate support team spent $20,000 and contracted out with local venders to manufacture 400 sets of body armor, wooden batons, pistol belts and other desperately needed crime-fighting tools for the police department that is charged with protecting one of Islam's holiest cities.
"The brain is a police officer's most important tool," said Army Maj. Peter J. Dusick, a law enforcement specialist with the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Green Bay, Wis. that is working with the Marines in Najaf. "But you need a radio to call for back up and you need handcuffs to arrest a suspect. Like any profession you need the right tools for the job."
The Coalition Provincial Authority, which is overseeing reconstruction efforts in Iraq, has plans to provide millions of dollars worth of modern equipment to Iraq's fledgling police departments. However, it's expected to take six months for shipments to arrive.
"They need this equipment now," said Dusick, who is a police officer in Chicago's 20th District in his civilian occupation. "If we get three to six months use out of it, it will be worth its weight in gold."
The equipment will help outfit a department that is woefully unequipped.
"The best part is that none of the equipment will be wasted," said Army Maj. Daniel Chachakis, the commander of the governate support team and a Southside Chicago resident. "Once the police get their regular equipment we can give it to the FPS (Facilities Protection Service) or customs police."
To field the Najaf police department with the proper crime fighting tools, the coalition team had to start from scratch. The law enforcement team went out to local businesses to view samples or described to them what they needed them to make, according to Army Staff Sgt. Marty Antone, a law enforcement specialist with the 432nd.
To create body armor for the local police, they showed a local contractor one of the ceramic shock plates that Marines use in their body armor so he could use it as a pattern to fashion steel plates, said Antone, who is a detective sergeant the Oneida, Wis. police department.
He went to another contractor with his police bulletproof vest so he had an idea what the armor carrier should look like. The end result looks like it was made in the United States.
"It's not the high-tech equipment that we have, like Kevlar," said Antone a Green Bay, Wis., resident. "But it is capable of stopping a 9mm round."
The law enforcement specialists really stretched the $20,000 they had on hand to equip the police force. They were able to purchase custom wooden batons for $1.50 each. Comparably, a set of body armor cost about $25, according to Dusick.
The Chicago cop's hand can be seen in the design of the new badges that the Najaf Police will be wearing soon.
"I traced it myself," said Dusick who not only is working on equipping the police here, but also is developing standard operating procedures and implementing modern police practices. His team also has developed standardized police report forms and arrest reports.
Equipping the police is a priority for the Marines. Aside from finding extra money to pay for the desperately needed equipment, they also are finding creative ways to make sure the cops are properly armed before they hit the streets.
"I call it bad guys to badge guys," said Sgt. Maj. Henry E. Bergon, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines sergeant major, a Woonsocket, R.I. resident, who is in charge of weapons distribution for the An Najaf police. "All the weapons we have given the police, and the security guards, are weapons that my Marines have captured in our raids and check points."
The value of the equipment cannot just be measured in dollars and cents. For the officers on the street it gives them a little more confidence to go after criminals.
"We never had equipment like this before," said Fathal Abas, a 14-year veteran with the An Najaf Police Department, through an interpreter. "I wanted to escape this job but now I like it."
He explains that with the new equipment comes an awareness of a new mission for the police. During the former regime, citizens viewed police as an inept and corrupt force. Now the police are required to fight crime and to protect the community.
"We used to go around and punish people all the time," said Abas, who lives in the nearby city of Kufa. "Now it is different. Just the other day I told one of the younger officers that we are not here to punish. We can now talk to people and if we can make things right there is no need for us to do anything."
His lesson to one of the rookies went over well with a few of the citizens who were standing nearby.
"They respect me more now," Abas said. "They know that the old ways are gone."