The U.S. government became involved in the Kosovo conflict in 1999 with the bombing of Belgrade (there had been previous involvement in the Balkans on a limited scale in Bosnia and Croatia). Subsequently, the U.N. Security Council created a resolution (1244) that began stabilization operations in the province of Kosovo. That was the beginning of UNMIK, the United Nations Mission In Kosovo. One of the top priorities in this type of operation is security, because without security there can be no stabilization.
To accomplish this, oversight and reform of the police had to be undertaken with a focus on instituting democratic policing principles and international best practices. The other half of stabilization is the military, and that fell on the shoulders of NATO.
There are two types of missions under U.N. resolutions: executive and non-executive. Executive authority gives international police officers who are sent in to assist the powers of arrest. Kosovo would be the only post-conflict region I served in that allowed this.
I got to Kosovo in July 2002, hired by Dyncorp on behalf of the State Department and subsequently seconded to the United Nations. UNMIK, the acronym for United Nations Mission In Kosovo, had a couple of thousand cops assigned to the province for the purpose of implementing democratic policing standards. Most of the cops were from Europe, a handful from Africa, with 600 Americans added to the program. A few of those Americans had been there since 1999, when President Clinton authorized U.S. involvement in Serbia (Kosovo was the southernmost province of that republic). About one-third of those deployed with me had been to Kosovo before.
We were flown into Skopje, Macedonia, unable to land in Pristina for whatever security reason existed at that time. Two female officers experienced culture shock when they hurried to the women's restroom after landing, only to hurry out moments later with horrified looks on their faces.
"There's no toilets," they squealed, "only holes in the ground!"
Those who had been in that region before laughed. Turkish toilets were old hat to them.
"Welcome to the mission!" they chortled.
We were herded on to a charter bus to finish our journey. Like anyone going into a post-conflict country, I was anxious and wondered what lie ahead. As the bus proceeded down the highway we passed through farm country, and much to my relief I noticed fields of green chile. Because I come from chile country in New Mexico, with the best chile in the world being forty miles north of Las Cruces in the Hatch Valley, I thought to myself then that everything would be okay. Any part of the world that grows chile can't be all that bad.
The bus ride into Pristina was about three hours, with a long stop at the border for passport control. The border was manned by U.N. police working in conjunction with KPS, the Kosovo Police Service. Once the passports were collected and stamped, we were in the capital within forty-five minutes.
We were checked into the Iliria Hotel, a "four-star" accommodation, at least by Kosovo standards. The beds were wooden boxes on a tiled floor with a mattress in them along with two sheets. The rooms were hot and muggy with no air. The toilet worked, at least, and there was a sink, although we were cautioned to use bottled water and not anything flowing through the tap. Bottles of water had been issued to us when we arrived. Community showers were down the hall. I was glad I had packed my own towels and soap, along with shower shoes. Exhausted from the long flight and bus trip, I was in bed early.
I awoke to the sounds of the muezzin over the loud speakers on the minaret of a nearby mosque calling the Muslims to morning prayer. I smiled as I lay on my back, hands folded behind my head. The sound is mysterious and beautiful all in the same moment. I jumped from bed, washed my face and brushed my teeth (I had showered the night before), put on the dark blue uniform we had been issued in Virginia, and went downstairs for breakfast.
The food was delicious. It always is when you haven't eaten since the previous afternoon. I didn't have much of an appetite, I never do in the morning, but I had a cup of strong coffee (not the Turkish mud variety, I wasn't ready to try that just yet, although I did within a few days; I never did develop a taste for it), a bit of bread, and a hard boiled egg. We gathered in a group, and followed on foot those who had been in Kosovo before, walking through downtown Pristina to the classroom.
It is not a city one visits for the architecture. Buildings constructed during the Soviet era in Yugoslavia were basic, and for the most part were sharp, angular concrete monstrosities lacking in frill or imagination. There were a couple of exceptions, the national library being one of them, and the ten-story building that houses OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), a rather odd-looking structure that seems more glass than anything but with a bar on the top floor that had fantastic views of Pristina. Another is the Christ the Savior Cathedral, started in the mid-1990's but never completed. It was guarded by NATO troops during my stay there because of efforts to destroy it with explosives. I'll go out on a limb here and say the suspects could have been Muslim (sarcasm intended). Kosovo is 90% Muslim. There had been a Jewish population at one time, but they were dispatched with the usual expediency one finds in religions of "tolerance."
We were given a one-week orientation, everything from culture and customs to safety and awareness. The State Department had given similar classes in Virginia for a one-week period prior to deployment, but the U.N. had its own mandatory course. We took a driving test to make sure everyone could operate a standard transmission (not everyone passed), and the veterans who had been in-country before gave me some advice: on your lunch break, shop your resumé around.
"You don't want to get stuck on patrol working the graveyard shift," they said.
Not knowing where to go or who to speak with, I did nothing. First of all, I barely knew how to get from the hotel to the classroom, much less identify the numerous office buildings downtown where various U.N. police personnel were assigned. I thought it a rather strange way for a system to operate. Surely, I thought, someone must be reviewing CV's since it was mandatory to submit them prior to our hiring and being flown to Virginia. We had been told in Virginia that our career information had been forwarded to the American contingent commander in Kosovo (they had, but nothing had been done. The U.N. had its own system, and short of knowing the American contingent commander personally, he wasn't in a position to place people. Mostly, and this would happen in future missions in different countries, our names were sent out in an email to other members of the American contingent to see if anyone knew us, and what they had to say).
We had been instructed to bring our CV's to the in-country orientation, and those were collected and disseminated to various U.N. units. It turns out that those veterans shopping around their resumés were taking them to people they knew in cushy assignments. They knew what kind of job they wanted. During the orientation process I was pulled out of class to speak with someone about an administrative assignment, which I wasn't particularly excited about, but took because it was eight-to-five and not graveyard patrol.
The other burden put upon us was finding our own living quarters. Nobody was going to help us with that, and we had to rely on word of mouth from those who had been there previously and those in our group who came from cities that had police officers there already. I was fortunate to meet a cop from Chicago who gave me some sound advice: stay out of the city. You want to live in a village, because that means whatever unit you are assigned to you will most likely get the U.N. vehicle. Most Americans lived in Pristina and could walk wherever they needed to go. That meant they avoided driving and parking hassles.
I spent my late afternoons and early evenings in orientation searching for accommodations, and I found a three-bedroom, two-story farmhouse surrounded by fields in the Serb village of Čagliviča. My landlord was named Zoran, and he had a wife and three children. They were great people.
By the end of orientation, I was assigned to MHQ, Main Headquarters, in downtown Pristina and placed in the Strategic Development section for the Kosovo Police Service. The boss at MHQ was an American, a retired U.S. Navy veteran who had been a cop several years before choosing mission work over police work back home. I was selected for the position at MHQ because of my administrative background as a deputy chief of police in LCPD, and placed in an office with a Russian police colonel. It didn't take long for me to realize he was a micromanaging humorless prick with a superiority complex towards Americans.
I went to the boss and told him it might be wise to transfer me before a problem developed. He asked me to hang in there a couple of weeks because there was an opening coming up in the Promotions Unit and he needed someone there with experience.
I waited two weeks and got transferred. I was moved down the hall to an office where I worked with a Spaniard from Valencia. He was a real heads up, down to earth kind of guy with a wonderful sense of humor. I was in there a few weeks before he took an extended leave back to Spain.
I won't mention the name of my fellow American boss because the following year he became a suspect in a kickback scheme involving tens of thousands of Euro dollars. He was on leave in the states at the time the crime was discovered, and told via telephone that if he returned he would most likely be locked up. He wisely stayed home and resigned his position via email.
But before all that happened, shortly after I got put in Promotions he called me in a panic one morning after my Spanish colleague had gone on leave. He explained to me that the upcoming promotional exam for KPS lieutenant had been compromised. Copies of it were for sale on the street.
"Can you write a new one?" he asked.
"How soon do you need it?"
"Like yesterday," he said. "The test is in two weeks and it will need to be translated. We really cannot afford to delay it."
"Promise me no interruptions and I'll have it for you in two days."
I delivered an exam of one hundred questions the following day. I relied on memory from the LCPD lieutenant's promotional exam, which was produced by a California company and had withstood legal challenges brought forward in lawsuits in that state regarding the equity of the test (which begs the question, why was Las Cruces using a promotional exam designed for California officers?). The last time I had taken the exam was eight years before, but I had taken the captain's test just five years earlier and they were essentially the same.
The test had five sections: (1) law, (2) standard operating procedure, (3) spelling/grammar/punctuation, and (4&5) two other sections that evaluated reading comprehension. One part measured the candidates ability to read information and answer questions regarding the content of a report; and the other dealt with putting the events of an incident in proper chronological order. The answers were multiple choice and true/false. In the brief time that I had been in-country, I had at least familiarized myself with enough local law and KPS rules and regulations to understand what applied and what did not with respect to specific test questions. What I missed, or didn't know, was corrected or enhanced during the translation process. The boss was very happy.
About a month later he called me in and asked if I was ready to take over a unit. He said there was an opening for chief of the Policy Development section. I said I would be more than happy to transfer, but I didn't want the chief's job. He was shocked that I didn't jump at the opportunity (many international cops, and especially Americans, working in Kosovo coveted jobs that had titles, especially if it came with a car). I had, as he knew from reading my CV, been in command positions in a police department, but I knew about the dedication and responsibility involved and wanted nothing to do with the headaches of supervising others. I would, however, be more than happy to lend my knowledge and expertise. He transferred me and placed another American as the chief of the section.
Being that the mission was three years old, KPS policy had already been written (plagiarized) and there wasn't all that much to contribute, really. I say plagiarized because all written policy provided for the KPS was taken from whatever U.S. police department an officer working in policy development happened to be from.
Your average citizen might think that policy written for a 5,000 officer police department in a former Soviet stronghold should be tailored to the needs of that agency. Wouldn't something this critical be a process of collaborating with KPS command staff to carefully scrutinize the requirements and expectations of their agency to ensure that all standard operating procedures, along with rules and regulations, are compatible with the needs of the KPS? Let me answer that in a word: Nope.
If the UN or State Department says we need a policy right now on vehicle pursuits, or use of force, or reporting procedures, or any number of matters relevant to the functioning of a law enforcement agency, that information is extracted from whatever agency manual an officer can lay his hands on. I learned early on that expediency trumps quality. Get it written, translated, and put into action so we can report progress. In official documents, the name of the department from which the information was taken was simply changed to Kosovo Police Service.
The job was boring. It wasn't how I wanted to spend my time overseas. I didn't volunteer for Kosovo to be an administrator resting on my laurels in the safety of an eight-to-five job .
Many of the units in MHQ were two- and three-man offices, with the person in charge designating himself as Chief, and the second-in-command calling himself Deputy Chief. Almost all of them were Americans, and not many of them had held rank back home. It was seriously ridiculous. The few of us who had been ranking officers in our former departments, and legitimately acquired rank through the years, made light of a system that dictated more chiefs than Indians. But, for those who lacked experience and had never held a supervisory position in their agency back home, and had quit those jobs because the U.N. paid far better, it was of utmost importance to their respective egos and resumés .
We had guys from PD's and sheriff's departments who had been cops for no more than five years, and had never done anything more in their careers than working a patrol car, making command decisions as heads of units they had never worked back home and knew nothing about. To the average cop, administrative work may not seem like it takes much effort or thought, but that's not the case and those who have no experience in that arena find themselves bogged down in the bureaucracy of it.
There was another problem, too, and anyone who served in the American contingent knew about it: there were those that reinvented themselves upon arriving in the mission, and falsely claimed career accomplishments and educational levels (I know, lying on a CV is common, but one might expect a tad more integrity from a cop). If they lacked the skill set for a particular position, they just made it up and didn't worry about whether or not they could actually perform the assignment. All of us were required to submit our CV's when we applied for the mission, and why those original submissions were ignored over those fabricated is a mystery to me.
Others would lie verbally about the agencies they worked for back home and said they were from big city police departments. This included the guy who was placed in charge of Policy Development. He was a lieutenant from a ten-man PD outside of St. Louis, but liked to impress upon people that he was a St. Louis police lieutenant; and his buddy, who worked in another unit, was from a twenty-man PD outside of Atlanta. He wanted everyone to believe that his rank of captain was in the Atlanta Police.
I had it out one afternoon with the American that the boss appointed to the chief of policy development. There were three of us in the unit and the other American was designated as the deputy chief of policy development. Early on the "chief" of this little section had tried to tell me I could not live in a village outside of Pristina. He made up a regulation about a mileage limit on how far outside the city limits an officer working in Pristina could live. There was simply no such thing.
My response to that was to ask for the mandate in writing, because I knew cops that lived even farther from Pristina than me. He said then that me living that far away (it was twelve miles) meant that I would always have the vehicle which was assigned to the unit, and it wasn't fair to him or the other guy. I told him I didn't need or want the car, just take me home and pick me up in the morning. He didn't like that response, because he didn't want to make the drive. He then went on a campaign of badmouthing me behind my back to anyone willing to listen, and of course it got back to me. I confronted him in his office, and he denied saying anything to anyone.
"Do you know why you were appointed chief of this unit?" I asked him.
"Yeah, because I put in for the job and got selected."
"No, you got this job because I turned it down," I told him. "If you don't believe me, let's go down the hallway right now and see the boss. He asked me to take over this unit, and I told him I didn't want it. That's how you got the job."
The problem we had within the American contingent, and this would remain consistent throughout my service in the various countries I served, was the blatant backstabbing, badmouthing, and sense of entitlement among some Americans. Cops from other countries witnessed it and asked why it was allowed to happen. Why, they asked, do Americans talk trash about each other, stab each other in the back for positions, and treat each other poorly? Simply stated, it was because there was no accountability back home.
Cops from other countries, nearly all of which had national police departments, were still in their careers within their respective agencies. They were held accountable by their command staff for what they did and said, and if they behaved contrary to established standards it would be reflected in their permanent record. Plus, they would not be allowed to deploy to foreign countries in the future. Americans were not held accountable, as a general rule. They didn't have to worry about going home with the reputation of being a problem child, because there was no national police force to go home to. American cops either retired or quit their jobs in order to serve overseas. The Europeans were sent as part of their duty, and it was a privilege for them to be selected.
So, where was the State Department on this? They had bigger fish to fry. Unless the backstabbing and lying were blatant and detrimental to our in-country efforts, they expected the private company they contracted to hire us to take care of the problem (every American contingent had a deputy program manager, usually a retired military officer or high-ranking enlisted, and most of them were decent guys). We worked for the State Department as contract employees, but it was not part of their oversight duties to "police" the conduct of the weasels we had in our ranks. They seldom stepped in directly (however, one incident that comes to mind where they did step in was a decade later in Liberia, when a contingent commander got so out of control with his perceived power and importance, and lied so blatantly about so many things, that State waited for him to go on leave back to the US and then politely informed him that his services were no longer needed).
Fortunately, the bad apples were few and far between.
At any rate, I decided that sitting around MHQ for the year I would spend in Kosovo was not my cup of tea (I would actually stay for eighteen months). I started checking around for openings and interviewed for a position at the Pristina Regional Serious Crimes Squad. It was an investigative unit made up of 100 officers, evenly split between internationals and KPS, with the accompanying translators. Our job was to mentor, monitor, and coach the KPS on serious crimes investigation. There were three squads that handled nothing but homicide, there was another squad that did cold case murders, and a fifth squad that was narcotics investigations.
I would go to one of the homicide squads.
More on that in the next post.