KARBALA, Iraq -- The leadership of the local police force met at Karbala University here June 21, to receive training they will need to better serve the people of Karbala.
Organized by the government support team comprised of representatives from the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, an Army Reserve unit from Philadelphia, and 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, the conference was designed to inform senior police officials what is expected of the police in regards to human rights awareness and officer accountability.
The biggest difference in the new force will be the philosophy of public service, said Marine Lt. Col. Matthew A. Lopez, 39, a Chicago resident who commands the 3/7, and serves as the military governor to the Karbala area.
"The most important change will be that the police force will work for the people," Lopez said. "You don't serve the city council. You don't serve Baghdad. You serve the people."
"The entire police force will work for the ministry of public safety," he said. The head of the ministry and the heads of the departments -- criminal, traffic, and security -- will be elected by the people in the future."
Central to the concept of the police working for the people is a code of conduct, produced by the government support team, being adopted to give the officers guidance on their behavior in and out of uniform in regards to both normal civilians and suspects, said Army Capt. Ezra Carbins Jr., 32, the senior civil affairs officer for the government support team.
"The purpose of the code of conduct is to give each police officer a guideline to the proper professionalism and behavior that is expected of him," said the La Habra, Calif. native. "He'll be held accountable to them by the people of Karbala."
The duties Carbins outlined in the new code of conduct are to serve the people, to protect the innocent, to keep the peace, and to enforce the law. The theme, he said, is service.
"All police officers will perform their duties equally towards the people, with no worry about wealth or affiliation or status -- political or social," he said.
"Regardless of what an individual is accused of, it is the police officer's duty to deal professionally and properly with those people," Carbins told the officers "you are police officers, not judges."
The people of Karbala did not trust the police when the coalition first arrived, but the force has regained some of that trust, and must continue to gain the public's faith, Carbins said.
"Without the support and respect of the community, the police are ineffective in their job," he said.
According to Carbins, it is essential for the leaders of the police force to communicate to their men the proper times and situations in which to use force.
"A police officer will only use that force which is necessary to deal with the problem," he told them. "The authority you carry in the streets should not be fear and intimidation. You are not gangs or thugs."
Integrity on the job as well as off , is essential to the image that the police project to the community, Carbins said.
"No police officer should accept gifts or money from private citizens or any official," he said.
There are international laws designed to protect people from abuse by their own government, and the Iraqi police must abide by these standards, said Army Maj. Bernard J. Bercik, 45, Philadelphia, Penn. resident with assigned to the 304th and a member of the judge advocate general team for 3/7's operations in Karbala.
"Under international law, every civilian has a right to liberty and security, without fear of arbitrary arrest and detention," Bercik said. "Searches cannot be humiliating or harassing."
Bercik gave the officers several examples of bad conduct by different police departments from around the globe to demonstrate the kind of behavior that is unacceptable.
"It can be as graphic and bad as torture and disappearance, or as simple as harassment of lawfully arrested individuals," he said.
The uniforms and equipment necessary for the new Iraqi police force are in the works, but will take time to get them, said Army Capt. Curtis White, 34, a member of the 304th who serves as the public safety team chief for 3/7.
The police will be supplied with new handguns, new magazines, holsters, belts, handcuffs, radios and batons, White said.
Col. Abbas Fabhil, the Iraqi commander of the police force in Karbala, was pleased with the conference and the information presented.
"It was a well organized conference, they did a great job," he said. "It was really fantastic, all very useful lectures, and beneficial."
"Hopefully they will continue these lectures, and continue to make progress in the future," Fabhil said.
He also spoke with stern resolve about enforcing the code of conduct and human rights.
"The officers have to obey all of these," Fabhil said. "Otherwise, they will be punished."
The police officers in Karbala have a lot of growing to do before they are ready to be protectors of a free people, but they are well on their way, and determined to succeed.