Mission Work

April 3, 2018

No, not that kind of mission. The overseas duty I volunteered for after retiring from the LCPD had nothing to do with religion, it's just the terminology used by the State Department and the United Nations for assignments: the Kosovo mission, the Liberia mission, etc.


Mission work was interesting, to say the least. I served in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Lebanon, and South Sudan, with side trips on official business to Italy and Nepal.


At the direction of the US Department of State, private companies hired police officers for duty in various countries in a multitude of assignments. Sometimes we were seconded to the UN (Kosovo, Liberia, Haiti) and others we worked directly for DoS (Afghanistan, Lebanon) and even DOJ (South Sudan). Some of the duties were mentoring and monitoring the local police while working alongside them, other positions were advising high-ranking police officials. The goal was to implement democratic policing standards into the respective policing organizations within each country.


Unlike most nations, the USA does not have a national police force. Every country I served in overseas did, and it makes sense if you think about it. Instead of our system of fifty different state law enforcement entities, with various municipal and county cops added to the mix, and on top of that all the federal law enforcement agencies, most nations have one system. That's one standard for all cops, whether it be training, rules and regs, policy development, etc. Different branches within that organization, of course, such as patrol, traffic, investigations, dignitary protection, and other assignments, but everyone under the same umbrella. 


The idea for sending cops overseas to do this type of work did not originate in the Bush White House, as is believed by many. In fact, Clinton sent American cops to Haiti in the mid-nineties. However, it's been going on since at least Vietnam. I knew an American in Haiti who had served as a civilian police advisor in South Vietnam in the 1960's. By the time we met, he was a full-time UN employee on the verge of retirement, but everything he had done in Vietnam forty years earlier was along the same lines as what we were doing early in the 21st century.


It's not an easy task. If you look at the list of countries where I served, the word corruption is synonymous with the national police forces. The level of corruption shocked many of my colleagues, but having grown up in the southwest, and having visited Juarez (and being locked up there for a few hours at the tender age of seventeen) the lack of values and integrity in law enforcement in the places I served came as no surprise. Bribes were common, unethical behavior abounded, beatings of suspects was the norm, but I believe we made a difference in some cases. We did not impact corruption from an institutional perspective, but we did make a difference at a personal level with individual commanders and line officers. In other words, the intelligent ones grasped the concept and at least were smart enough to give the appearance of conforming.


But, it's difficult to combat inherent corruption. The reality was that cops in Afghanistan made $15 a month when I got there in September 2004. I remember that because $15 was what I paid for the Thursday evening buffet at the Intercontinental Kabul. I remember joking that the exorbitant charge for rice and chicken was to keep out the riffraff. An Australian sitting at the table said, "Take a look around, mate. The whole bloody country is riffraff." The pay for the Afghan police would eventually go up, but only to about $100 per month. I'd be corrupt, too, trying to live on those wages. Police in Liberia only made about $100, as well, and members of the Kosovo Police Service made about $200. The story was the same in Haiti, Lebanon, and South Sudan.


Cops in most of those countries, and in third-world countries in general, were nothing more than private security for the ruling elite. Having cops from the US and other Western countries go into those places and impose an entirely different value system was a misguided venture. No changes could be made without the consent of top ranking commanders in those national police forces, and they were the most corrupt. No way were they going to interrupt the gravy train. Some were on the CIA payroll, anyway. Realistically, the only times we made headway was when certain personnel in command positions got so corrupt that they had to be arrested. Haiti comes to mind. The cops had a lucrative kidnapping ring, to the tune of five or six per day at the height of the abductions, and a friend of mine, a former NYPD detective, helped crack it. The HNP commander behind it was canned, but corruption in the ranks of narcotics and all other units was still rampant. I used to watch the Haitian traffic cops set up roadblocks at lunch time to get money to eat. Once they had enough to buy chow, they got on their motors and went away.


I'm not picking on Haiti. They were no worse than other places I served. In fact, from an academic perspective, Haitian cops in general are better educated than most of the cops in other countries. One of the great injustices done to the Haitian National Police was the United Nations bringing in police from Africa to implement democratic policing standards. Many of those officers came from nations that had U.N. missions in their own countries. It was a joke, really. Sort of like having Mexican cops come into the U.S.A. to teach ethics to American cops.


I'll write more about overseas service in the future. For now, please check out my books and drop me a line to let me know what you think.

Semper Fi.    

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