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© 2000 by The Stanley Foundation
CHRIS GERSTBREIN: We saw a lot of things there that we wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with in the United States. You know, there’s still a lot of land mines, so it was possible to lose a suspect that was fleeing through a minefield because nobody wanted to chase him. So there were a lot of factors that entered in there that we don’t have to deal with in our day-to-day situation.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, keeping the peace throughout the world.
ROBERT PERRITO: Our organization, working through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, established a policy academy just outside of Priztina, and began to train a new Kosovar police service.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. International organizations of all sorts are lending a hand in picking up the pieces of war-torn Bosnia. In recent years the United Nations has sent a group comprised of law enforcement officials from over 49 countries to train local police on effective law enforcement techniques. As part of the program, West Liberty, Iowa, Police Chief Chris Gerstbrein spent a year in Bosnia and Croatia. Common Ground‘s Hélène Papper reports on Gerstbrein’s experience.
[sound of police officer working with his police dog]
PAPPER: Peacekeeping is not an easy job. Especially when your partner has four legs, a tail, and barks, and you have to learn how to communicate with him. Just ask West Liberty, Iowa Police Chief Chris Gerstbrein.
PAPPER: Did you train the dogs in Serbo-Croatian or in English?
CHRIS GERSTBREIN: Actually, their commands were given in German, just like our dogs here in the United States.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein has been training police dogs for years in West Liberty, Iowa. West Liberty, the town where famous meat packer Louis Rich got his start, is a small, rural town of about 3,300 people. Last year Gerstbrein was given the opportunity to export his skills to a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
GERSTBREIN: My unit, in particular, had five dogs; four of ’em were German Shepherd patrol dogs, which did building searches, tracking, the bite work, the handler protection. And they were also used at soccer games for crowd control. And then we had one dog that was a Labrador Retriever that was specifically used for drugs and drug detection and tracking. And believe it or not, even in an area that was torn by the war, has a bad economy, the dog did find drugs.
PAPPER: But Gerstbrein says his year-long mission encompassed much more than dog training.
GERSTBREIN: Our mission came out of the Dayton Peace Accord. And what we were there to do was to monitor and observe the police, their activities, the facilities they used. And try to help them make the transition to democratic policing. We also assisted in guaranteeing fair and free elections. We also had a large role in training to bring the local police up to accepted democratic principles.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein adds he and the other members of this international police task force received preparation training before they were sent out on the field.
GERSTBREIN: We had some information, a week-long class in Texas, before we went over, that covered some of the political situation and some of the background history of the region. But, you know, there’s always at least two sides to every story. And in this case, you know, there are three sides. That was one of the main things that I tried to remember going in, was that each side had their own story on how things happened. And not to make up my mind or take sides going in. So I think the training was adequate and as good as it could be.
PAPPER: But Gerstbrein says pre-training could not fully prepare them to what living in a war-torn region would really be like.
GERSTBREIN: The first place that we landed was Zagreb, Croatia. And as we landed at the airport there were still planes that were blown up, that had bullet holes in ’em sitting around the areas of the runways. Of course, when we got off the plane none of us spoke the local language. They did have some people there to meet us to help make hotel reservations and everything. But, yeah, the whole thing was kind of a shock culturally, and just seeing some of the war damage. Croatia has recovered a little quicker than some of the other areas in the region, so it was a slow transition from Zagreb to Sarajevo.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein continues his description as he patrols West Liberty.
[sound of automobile and sounds of people on the street]
GERSTBREIN: When we first went to Sarajevo for a week, eight days of training. Then I went to Brcko Region, which was in northeastern Bosnia. And it was the American area of operation for the NATO troops. Brcko was actually the only area that wasn’t given to the Republic of Serbska or the Bosnian/Muslim Croat Federation. It was actually under arbitration when the Dayton Peace Accord was signed, so it actually didn’t belong to either group. And it was an area that was close to the Croatian border and it was heavy fighting there, so there was a lot of damage and destruction there. I worked in that area, but lived in a town called Srebrenic, which was down towards Tuzla.
And Srebrenic was just the complete opposite. It was untouched by the war and was a very affluent community. So you had a real, real big difference there, between where you were living and working. I then transferred down to Gorazde, which was a little farther south and on, basically right on the Montenegro border. And it was an area that there was also heavy fighting. You know, the supermarket still had rocket-propelled grenade holes in the front of it. The house that I lived in was owned by a school teacher and his wife who were probably in their early sixties. They didn’t leave during the war because they had lived in Gorazde their whole life. And my apartment was basically the second level of a three-story house. There was a bullet hole in the kitchen cabinet. And also a bullet hole that went through the armoire in the bedroom, which were about the only things that hadn’t been really repaired from the war damage.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein says going to Bosnia to train other officers was as beneficial to him as it was to them. He says he ran into many situations he’d never dealt with before.
GERSTBREIN: We saw a lot of things there that we wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with in the United States. You know, there’s still a lot of land mines, so it was possible to lose a suspect that was fleeing through a minefield because nobody wanted to chase him. So there were a lot of factors that entered in there that we don’t have to deal with in our day-to-day situation.
PAPPER: And Gerstbrein says a great deal of the training he conducted with officers consisted in teaching them about authority and responsibility.
GERSTBREIN: They had a very different system there for a long time. And still do. Right now the economy is still recovering. It’s getting better than it was, but anytime you’ve got a bad economy you’ve got the chance of corruption, which was something you had to watch for. And the whole system for a long time was a, almost communist system which gave the, not just the police officers, but everybody in society, the average workers, didn’t take a whole lot of responsibility, or didn’t have a whole lot of authority. So one of the biggest things that we were trying to change was to have the officers make decisions and use the authority that they did have. And I think that was probably our biggest challenge and our biggest difference.
PAPPER: But Gerstbrein says for the most part the officers he worked with, whether Serbs, Bosnians, or Croatians, were very responsive to the training.
GERSTBREIN: I’ve heard stories, but never actually been involved in situations where there were some that were resistant to the UN or the IPTF, their role there. But like I said, personally I was in and worked with all three ethnic groups and never had a problem there. I made some really good friends that are officers there and we still keep in touch.
PAPPER: And communicating with people, says Gerstbrein, was not as difficult as he had anticipated.
GERSTBREIN: I think it’s much easier to pick up the basics, the survival language, when you’re immersed in the culture. We lived not on a base like the NATO troops that were there, but we lived out in the communities. We shopped on the local economy. So that made it much easier to pick up the language. But I went in with an open mind and with the hope that I could pick up at least enough of the language to get by and to fit in a little bit. And I think that when you’re in a situation like that, when the people see that you’re trying to fit into their culture, I think that makes a big difference on how you get along with the people. The language spoken there is called Serbo-Croatian. And it’s spoken by all three ethnic groups there. So there was only one that we had to pick up.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein says he feels the entire experience has changed his outlook on life.
GERSTBREIN: I guess I had seen the news clips about the war on CNN. But like a lot of people, that was a faraway place. I didn’t know anybody personally there. So you don’t really pay that much attention. And that’s another thing that I think is, has changed a lot in me. I pay a lot more attention to what’s going on in the national, international news.
PAPPER: Back at the West Liberty police station, Gerstbrein continued.
GERSTBREIN: It’s probably one of the best things that I’ve ever done. Personally it’s given me a much greater appreciation for the things that we have here in the United States—our standard of living, our standard of healthcare—lot of things that we take for granted. When we worked the elections in April, just seeing NATO troops having to patrol along with IPTF, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and local Army troops, local police—you see all of that just to guarantee free elections and it makes you realize how much you do take for granted. I saw the conditions that they were having to work under, which made me appreciate things here a lot more. I saw their level of training. I had the opportunity to oversee some of their activities, which definitely I think helps me back here. I had the opportunity for an extension, a six-month extension. Like I said, I had made a commitment to the city that I would return at the completion of the year. And probably the most, the hardest part of the mission was being away from the family for a year. That was probably the hardest part of the whole mission for me.
PAPPER: How about in the future? Would you think of going back and doing this kind of work again?
GERSTBREIN: Oh, definitely. Definitely.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein adds he feels even more positive about his experience because of the way the UN peacekeeping missions are organized. The training is meant to continue locally even when the UN representatives leave the area.
GERSTBREIN: The training is continuing. We had two local officers that we were teaching to be instructors. So once the UN does leave the area there will be people in place to continue that training to be able to take care of that.
PAPPER: But for now Gerstbrein says he’s happy to be back in West Liberty with his family and says he’s going through reverse adaptation.
GERSTBREIN: It’s pretty quiet to come back to, you know. Over there I was living and working in a much larger community. And it didn’t seem like they had the property crime that we have over here. And it’s a much simpler way of life there. Everybody has the big garden to be able to put food away for the winter. They may have a cow. Everybody’s got their own chickens. So it’s a much simpler way of life, which I actually learned to appreciate. And I miss that.
PAPPER: Gerstbrein is now back in the happy grind of daily policing in West Liberty. It’s a different kind of work, but work nonetheless.
[sound of a police dispatcher on a radio talking to Gerstbrein about a perpetrator and a shooting]
PAPPER: Though this sounds more serious than it really is.
GERSTBREIN: A perpetrator in the shooting is somebody shot out the Conesville post office window.
[Gerstbrein and Papper laugh]
PAPPER: For Common Ground, I’m Hélène Papper.
PORTER: Coming up, training peacekeepers.
ROBERT PERRITO: They make extraordinarily good instructors, we’ve found. And when they go back to their communities, particularly those that are still active duty police officers, they bring with them a whole new level of experience and expertise and enthusiasm, having been part of these international operations.
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
PORTER: In some of the world’s most tumultuous places there is an overwhelming need for basic law and order services. One office in the US Department of Justice has been given the job of training local police forces in places like Panama, Somalia, Haiti, El Salvador, and Kosovo. The International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program is known by its acronym, ICITAP. Robert Perrito is Acting Director.
ROBERT PERRITO: ICITAP is an interesting organization in that it’s more than just a training program, although training is still in our name. What we are is an international law enforcement development program. We’ve learned through our participation in a number of international peace operations and in training in emerging democracies that just going and giving a course and going home accomplishes very little. What’s really needed is a comprehensive development assistance approach. We go in, normally begin working with the host government and with the national leadership, to get across the idea that law enforcement development training and assistance is needed, and to get, buy in at that level.
Then we work with local police, usually doing strategic planning. Then, when we get around to actually delivering training we usually end up setting up a unit, writing its rules and regulations and procedures, getting local laws amended so that they’re appropriate. Then the training occurs with the personnel who actually are gonna implement this or be a part of the unit. Then when the unit deploys to the field our advisors usually go with them to be around, to be available to answer questions, to see if the training is applicable. And then very often we’ll do follow-ups, where we provide advanced training in the same area, so that you just don’t call a bunch of people together and say, “All right, this is the way you investigate a case. Now you’ll never see us again. Go out and do what you’ve been trained to do.” Because that doesn’t work.
We come in and create the environment and then stay with the people until they’re actually able to use the skills they have, and the skills become then part of their own inventory of environ—very often when we do things we train trainers from the local police academy. We give them the curriculum. And so that there’s a self-sustaining capacity.
PORTER: Well, I certainly want to get into some of the specifics of the places you provide this kind of service. But let’s talk about the history. When was this agency founded, and why?
PERRITO: Well, the United States is kind of interesting, because we’re the one country in the world where providing international police assistance is against the law. Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act, which bans foreign police assistance, is still on the books. So all the police assistance the US does abroad is done under notwithstanding and exceptions to the basic law. And ICITAP is an exception. ICITAP was created in 1986 to meet the need of providing criminal investigation training to the law enforcement organizations in Central America. We were a very small organization. When Operation Just Cause occurred in Panama, the US needed a civilian training agency to train the new Panamanian National Police. ICITAP got the job. We were successful. We got the job in El Salvador; we got the job in Somalia; we got the job in Haiti. We’ve gotten the job in Bosnia, and we now, most recently, have gotten the job in Kosovo. We’ve been tasked by the US government to train 3,000 members of the new Kosovar Police Service within a year.
PORTER: Wow. So in each of those places, I mean, those are, the places that would be described as sort of the worst spots, or the places where things have gone terribly awry. And you get tasked with making some sense out of that. That must be a great challenge.
PERRITO: Well, I recently made a visit to a Accra, Ghana, and I tell the….
PORTER: Now, where was this?
PERRITO: Accra, Ghana. Where we’re providing, or we did provide this fall, a five-month program in civil disorder management for the Ghanaian national police. And I told the inspector general of police when I got there that it was such a pleasure to be in a country where the roofs were still on the buildings and the glass was still in the windows, because my previous visits had been to countries where that wasn’t the case.
PORTER: This is interesting to me also, that we hear often about a situation where there has been a conflict and people are coming in, in the post-conflict situation providing medicine and shelter. You talked about the roofs being gone. Those kinds of things. But we don’t hear a lot of talk about law-and-order issues, about security issues. But this is still very important to people who are in that, sort of, post-disaster situation.
PERRITO: If we think about Kosovo, one of, the first thing that, the first obligation or job that was handed to the KFOR military forces as they deployed was basic law-and-order. There, people were flooding back into the country, there were acts of revenge, there were acts of basic criminality. And NATO soldiers began to take on the role of arresting and detaining people. Those are police functions. And almost immediately General Clark called for the international community to provide international police. Two things happened. One, the United Nations began to deploy an international police task force composed of professional international civilian police officers from around the world. At the same time, our organization, working through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, established a police academy just outside of Priztina and began to train a new Kosovar police service. We just graduated the first class of cadets—170 Kosovarians, including 7 ethnic Serbs. This force, when it’s fully deployed, will be the new police of Kosovo. They will operate initially under the supervision of the international police task force, but that force will leave eventually, and these cadets that will go through our training, these new police officers, will be the new police force for Kosovo.
PORTER: In the Kosovo situation you said, how many people were in the first graduating class?
PERRITO: There were 177 in the first graduating class.
PORTER: Right. And how many Americans are we talking about being involved in training?
PERRITO: There are approximately 40 American instructors at the academy right now, but there are also a complement of British instructors and there are instructors from other countries. As I said, we mostly, we work in Kosovo under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, so we have our partners from Europe and North America there. There are Canadian instructors as well as Americans and Europeans. In other countries we’ve worked in international partnership as well. In Haiti, for example, we began with a faculty at the police academy in Port-au-Prince, which was made up of Americans, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and French Gendarmarie, which was an international mix, it was very interesting to be a part of. But that’s normally the process. In El Salvador it was Spain and a number of Latin American countries—Chile, Argentina—and the United States.
PORTER: And the Americans that are a part of that, where do they, where do you draw them from? Are they all Department of Justice people? Or…
PERRITO: No, these are primarily law enforcement professionals from across the United States. And from just a variety of communities. Some are recently retired officers, others are active duty officers. We try to draw on the strengths of state and local law enforcement in the United States. These are the people that have the most appropriate skills. They’re people that do these things on a daily basis. They are, they make extraordinarily good instructors, we’ve found. And when they go back to their communities, particularly those that are still active-duty police officers, they bring with them, you know, a whole new level of experience and expertise and enthusiasm, having been part of these international operations.
PORTER: You mentioned, in both Kosovo and Haiti that you had training sites set up in-country. Is that typical? Or do you also bring foreign nationals to the United States to conduct training?
PERRITO: We do very little training in the United States. Most of the training we do is in-country. And the reason for that is you get a larger bang for the buck. You can reach many more people for a much lower cost by bringing the instruction to the foreign community. And then the instruction occurs in a local context. You’re much less likely to get a circumstance where the instructor is simply telling a group of foreign students about how we do it in the United States. Much more likely to get a locally relevant presentation. We often use, for example when we teach the part of the course that deals with local law, we’re very likely to bring in a local attorney who will teach about his country’s laws. He’s probably the best expert we could get a hold of. Very often we use local NGO, human rights workers. When we get into those parts of the class we deal with community sensitivities. We’ll bring in church members, we’ll bring in people from local human rights organizations. So that you get a mix of resources and you make it as immediate as possible to the situations the student will confront when he leaves the class.
PORTER: We mentioned, again, Kosovo and Haiti and other countries that were emerging from some kind of strife. But you also work with countries that are more stable at that time, but also need your assistance.
PERRITO: That’s right.
PORTER: Tell us something about that.
PERRITO: Maybe a good example of that would be South Africa. Although it’s a country in political transition it’s a country with a great deal of stability. One of the more interesting things we’ve done there is we’ve worked with an organization called The Independent Complaints Directorate. This is an organization established under the supervision of the Ministry of Safety and Security. It was originally established to receive complaints for citizens about the police. But what it’s evolved into is an organization that’s investigating the problem of death in police custody. And South Africa last year experienced 700 cases of death in police custody. What we’ve done with this organization is help it establish itself. We’ve trained its investigators. We’ve trained its managers. And we’ve gone through the kind of program I described, where we, we created the rules and regulations of the organization—or helped those be created—and we trained the people. We deployed out with these new investigators. Helped them sort of, do their initial investigations. Brought them back into the classroom for advanced training. Deployed out with them again. And now this organization I think has over 50 investigators. They have a high profile in South Africa. They’re doing, they’re very sensitive and important work. And our role was to help create this institution, which is now pretty much on its own and functioning.
PORTER: The role of the executive branch agencies in this country in formulating US foreign policy, or being involved in the rest of the world, used to be confined to just to a couple of areas, sort of narrow departments. And now it seems to be spread all over the place. The Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor, Commerce; they all have an international aspect to them. In the Department of Justice, how does this work you do coordinate with the State Department? Or with US Agency for International Development?
PERRITO: ICITAP is a unique organization in that it is located within the Department of Justice, in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. That’s really the heart of that agency. But we take all of our money, in terms of project, in the form of project funding, from AID and the Department of State. So we work in an inter-agency environment almost all the time. We go to White House meetings on almost a daily basis. And our whole approach is to combine the talents, abilities, and outlook that the Department of Justice brings to this equation, with the foreign policy interests of the Department of State, the political interests of the White House, the development interests of AID, and to try to put that all together so that it’s a truly American kind of contribution in the areas where we’re working.
PORTER: But you also must find yourself in sort of direct liaison with, like say, OSCE or the UN, or whatever other agency is working….
PORTER: …in that country that you’re operating in.
PERRITO: Yeah, absolutely. In Bosnia, for example, we are in partnership with the International Police Task Force. And although we are a bilateral program we work very, very closely with IPTF. And in the initial program which we did, which involved offering training in basic and modern police skills and in respect for human dignity in policing, this is, these were two courses that have now reached almost 19,000 members of both police forces in the Federation and in the Republic of Serbska. In many of those cases we either trained the IPTF, the International Police Force members who delivered the training, or we taught in teams with them. So that you would walk into a classroom and see a person from our organization teaching next to a UN CIVPOL officer in his uniform. In Kosovo we work with OSCE. In Bosnia we work with the UN. In Guatemala and El Salvador we worked very closely with the United Nations there. In Albania we’re working in a team with the Western European Union. They have a police assistance program there. So in most of the places where we are there is an international component and we’re a member of that joint effort.
PORTER: That is Robert Perrito. He’s Acting Director of the International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program in the United States Department of Justice. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0043. That’s Program Number 0043. To order by credit card you can call us at 319-264-1500. That’s 319-264-1500.
MCHUGH: Hélène Papper is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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