Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Africa
Updated: May 18
I served twelve years with the U.S. Department of State as a police advisor after retiring from the Las Cruces Police Department. Those were interesting assignments, lasting on average anywhere from six months to two years. I also saw service in the Caribbean (Haiti) and had just arrived in Beirut when the devastating earthquake of January 2010 struck Port-au-Prince and killed hundreds of thousands, many of them friends and colleagues.
The assignments I fulfilled were as varied and diverse as the countries I served in. The State Department at that time had two categories of assignment for police advisors, and those involved either working directly for DoS or secondment to the United Nations. Afghanistan and Lebanon were DoS assignments, and Kosovo, Liberia, and Haiti were UN, with South Sudan being a Department of Justice slot under the supervision and management of the embassy in Juba. Whatever the case, we still answered to the State Department.
My first assignment was in the summer of 2002, ten months after the terroroist attacks of September 11, 2001. Our group was originally scheduled to deploy in December of that year but were delayed for unknown reasons, most likely budgetary. My first assignment was in the Kosovo Police Service HQ in downtown Priština, a four- or five-story building with police officers from virtually every country in Europe. It was admin work typical of any police agency (KPS had 5,000 officers at that time) and I worked in Policy Development and, later, Promotions. I did not like the work. I had retired as a Deputy Chief of police and had spent my last four years at LCPD performing similar tasks and wanted something more exciting. After three months I applied for an opening in the Priština Regional Serious Crimes Squad and was accepted.
What a change! The RSCS had 50 international investigators and 50 KPS officers divided up into five squads. I went to one of three squads that investigated nothing but murders. Another squad was cold case murders, and the fifth unit was Narcotics. To say we stayed busy would be an understatement. Priština had its fair share of homicides in those days and in the eight months I was with the RSCS my unit handled 38 murders. One case that sticks out in memory was the Stolič murders, the triple-homicide of a married couple and their mentally disabled adult son. Another case I remember because we did not respond was one where an Albanian man had been shot five times and was in hospital being treated. My colleague, a Spaniard, told the requesting officer that we only responded to murder and to call us back if he croaked. The case was given to the local precinct.
The camaraderie within the RSCS was fantastic. We were led by a Brit and morale was high. Every Friday evening, almost without exception, we got together in the commander's office, which opened up on to the roof, and had drinks. There was almost always someone with a guitar (usually an Irish cop) and singing and song playing went late into the night before we would head down to the Kukri Bar. The Kukri Bar was run by John, a retired British soldier married to a Serbian woman named Suzie, and was the place to see and be seen in Priština, at least for internationals. The bar was on the ground level of a ten-story apartment building and in warm weather there were picnic tables placed outside. The residents of the building sometimes got fed up with the noise and dumped water and sometimes glass bottles on to the patrons below. Never a dull moment in Kosovo.
I was the on-call investigator one evening and was dispatched to a report of homicide outside the New York Nightclub. The nightclub was downtown and across from KEK, the Kosovo Electric Kompanie. An argument broke out in the nightclub between two groups of criminals, and as one party departed the club they walked along a sidewalk parallel to the building. A party from the group they had been arguing with threw a hand grenade at them. One dead, three wounded. At the scene I discovered evidence, thousands of tiny black plastic shards in the shape of a pig's tail. It may have been a Yugoslavian "practice" hand grenade. No other evidence was located. The victims refused to talk, anyway, and said they would take care of the matter themselves. I have no doubt that they did.
Had another case where a shop keeper refused to pay the mafia protection money. The shops were typical Euro style, where the owner has a door similar to a garage that goes up and down on rails. She did not notice that a hand grenade had been fixed to the bottom of the garage, and when she removed the padlock and rolled the gate up the pin was pulled from the grenade. BOOM! She ran before it detonated and was only slightly wounded.
An unhappy customer tried the same with one of our UN vehicles, affixing a grenade to a rear wheel so that when it was backed up the pin would be pulled. Fortunately, the officer discovered the grenade before moving the vehicle.
The week before Christmas 2002 on a Friday night we were getting hammered in the commanders office when a car bomb exploded downtown. A few quick phone calls were made and it was determined that the officers assigned to organized crime were looking into it. We were told to go home and get some sleep because the following day would be busy. I left and went back to my apartment, slept soundly, and reported for duty the next day. It was a smart move. About fifteen minutes after I had departed the commander's office on the previous evening, he'd received a phone call from the police commissioner ordering all available hands to report to the crime scene and hospital to interview victims, witnesses and, hopefully, suspects. My colleagues had been up all night!!
There was another bar down the road from the Kukri called The Irish Pub and it had a seating capacity of about 25 and routinely held well over 150 patrons on weekend nights. I didn't care for the pub as much as the Kukri because I've never been a fan of shoulder-to-shoulder drinking and having to move sideways to navigate. Come to think of it, the Kukri was always that packed but for some reason it didn't seem to bother me.
By the time eight months had passed many of the friends I had made in the RSCS had departed for their home countries and the unit was not the same. I ran into a fellow American who asked me to apply to the War Crimes Unit. I thought about it and put in for the transfer.
More on the War Crimes Unit in the next posting.