PALESTINIAN POLICE TRAINING
Too little, too late
By Steven Smith
(Steven Smith, a veteran of international policing missions in Bosnia and Serbia, is the lead instructor for the Administration of Justice program at Gavilan College, California.)
International Herald Tribune, May 19, 2008
AMMAN, Jordan: The first graduates of General Keith Dayton’s Palestinian police-training program will soon hit the hard streets of the West Bank. Unfortunately, they will do so without the firearms, radios and first-aid equipment that they have been promised after graduating from a training program so fraught with problems that it can hardly be called a training program at all.
I was part of that program and watched as nearly a thousand young officers were being put through the motions of an effort that was dominated more by political pressure than by the need to produce well-trained graduates.
Designed by a U.S. contractor in Florida based on specifications written by Dayton and his staff, the plan of instruction calls for a 1,400-hour curriculum that includes human rights law, defensive tactics, first aid, urban and rural small-unit tactics, firearms, mounted- and foot-patrol techniques, crime scene investigations and more.
If that seems ambitious, it is. With a day off for the Muslim sabbath, it means 12 to 14 hours of instruction a day for four months. Indeed, the plan of instruction is so detailed that every minute of every day is accounted for, including showering and prayer.
Unfortunately, when the American monitoring group that I was part of arrived in Jerusalem in January, just two weeks before training was scheduled to begin, not a page of curriculum was ready for our review and nothing had been translated into Arabic.
A Jordanian translation company that had been contracted to translate 300 pages of curriculum per day had to be dismissed because it couldn’t produce even a few pages of intelligible curriculum. One Jordanian instructor tactfully told me the translations were “very bad.”
Indeed, upon translation back to English we found the curriculum had utterly lost its meaning. For example the words “cover fire,” a term to describe small-arms fire to pin down the enemy and allow movement, was translated as “extinguish a burning fire.”
The site for the training is the Jordanian International Police Training Center, or JIPTIC, located outside of Amman. It was built to house the American-backed Iraqi police-training program and in its heyday, the center trained over 50,000 Iraqi officers in eight-week courses. Since its return to Jordanian control, the center suffers from lack of maintenance and equipment.
I watched as frustrated Jordanian instructors abandoned the unintelligible curriculum and improvised instruction inside overcrowded classrooms and gymnasiums. Instruction in defensive tactics for hundreds of students was taught with three practice batons, a few handcuffs, and dummy pistols that were actually novelty cigarette lighters. The students had none of the safety equipment normally associated with police work.
In the classrooms, I watched as students were taught radio communications without radios, driving and vehicle maintenance with no vehicles, foot-patrol tactics without weapons or radios, and mounted-patrol tactics without vehicles.
The spectacle of watching officers pretend they were in vehicles, or had radios or firearms was so ridiculous that it would have been funny were the stakes not so high.
Even when classes were well-delivered students seldom had notebooks, manuals or course handouts. Moreover, fully 10 percent of the students are functional illiterates.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there is no assessment program in place as the students progress through the course. Although such assessments were called for in the plan of instruction, there has been no attempt to measure whether the students have learned the required materials.
A State Department official told me that students would be tested at the conclusion of the course; another said that they would be given CD-roms at the end of the course that would contain course handouts. Both measures are too little too late since none of the students I knew even owned computers and an assessment at the end of a four-month course allows no time for remedial training.
Many of the Jordanian instructors were pressed into service and simply didn’t have the expertise, equipment, or the time to provide good instruction. A first-aid instructor teaching CPR had never taken CPR himself and taught his students to give chest compressions on the abdomen of a retail store mannequin instead of a CPR dummy.
The firearms training failed to include failure drills, discretionary shooting, the use of cover and concealment and weapons cleaning. Only a few students demonstrated skill at assembling and disassembling their firearms. Students firing just 60 rounds of ammunition at close range who could hit the target were pronounced qualified.
The congressional investigators and journalists I saw were steered clear of any training that was substandard as well-rehearsed students put on demonstrations of police skills designed to impress laymen.
Staff members are ordered not to talk to the press or visiting dignitaries. Students only speak to the press in the presence of their minders.
I can only write these words because I resigned over what I saw as a failed program. Other staff members are kept silent by large paychecks and a promise that they will never work for the State Department again if they speak out.
If it is true that an army fights the way it has been trained, then the young men of the Palestinian security forces are in for a tough time. Nevertheless, morale is high and the students I saw have developed strong bonds and an esprit de corps.
But they return to the West Bank to face Hamas and other organized and well-armed political and criminal gangs ill-prepared and ill-equipped. I have little confidence in their ability to replace the Israeli Defense Forces without significant retraining with proper equipment and instruction.