Kirkuk combats corrupt police, wayward force
KIRKUK, Iraq — The Kirkuk police department, by everyone’s admission, has a few problems.
Few of the nearly 3,000 policemen in this bustling northern Iraq city, regularly show up for work or do patrols, says the police chief. Many have been seen taking their police vehicles home for personal use. Locals say they have little trust in the city’s police corps.
But the police chief, Maj. Gen. Sherko Shaler, says he has a plan.
In November, Sherko, with help from members of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, unveiled a point-driven system that he hopes will bring accountability to the unruly police department.
Sherko’s system, explained in a four-page guide, follows a complicated set of rules intended to reward or punish actions.
Each police officer starts with a certain number of points: 10 for a beat cop, 15 for a sergeant and 20 for an officer. Actions will lead to infractions or rewards.
Accidentally firing your weapon will cost you a whopping 10 points — the highest possible penalty and the only offense that carries such a stiff punishment.Purposely causing an incident or being willfully negligent costs two points.Failure to report or react to a significant event, assassination or ethnic event carries a five-point penalty.If a police offficer falls to 0 points, he could find himself in jail for up to three days. If he reaches 50 points, awards include being given public recognition or time off. All punishments or rewards are given at Sherko’s discretion.
“We should hopefully succeed with this new system,” Sherko said during a meeting of local station chiefs, which was also attended by members of the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne.
After unveiling the plan, Sherko, a tough man with a vinegary disposition, proceeded to give his station chiefs a vicious half-hour tongue-lashing, beating the table for emphasis and switching from Arabic to his native Kurdish when he became especially incensed.
“How come the policemen are not on the streets, not patrolling, not doing their job?” he yelled. “It’s shame on us that we have American Humvees on the streets and no police. … I’m going to punish from now on.”
U.S. officials who work daily with the police department agreed that the department needs some work.
“There’s no hiding the fact that there’s crime and corruption in the police force,” said Maj. Chris Kidd, battalion operations officer. “It’s common knowledge that there have been issues.”
Sherko, he noted, is not part of the evaluation system.
“Since it’s his plan, I don’t think he really bothered with it,” he said. “It’s his plan.”
The biggest police issue is “standards and discipline,” said Company B Commander Capt. Brian Spears. “They’re improving. Slowly.”
“There’s room for improvement, but they’re doing the best they can,” added Company C Commander Capt. John McLaughlin. “It’s incomparable to what police face in the U.S. Despite that, they’re still going out there and doing their job.”
As Sherko explained the plan, most of the 20-some station chiefs around the table hung their heads like chastised children. Others visibly smirked.
Among the smirkers was Col. Jasim Arabeeya, 37, station chief for the Adala district of Kirkuk, who said he has little confidence in Sherko’s plan.
“Sherko is a very angry man,” he said through a translator. “He gives lots of instructions, and lots of police chiefs don’t follow those instructions.”
As for the system, though, he said, “If it gets implemented, it will be a very good system.”
But, he said, because most of his police officers don’t show up for work, and because those who do are illiterate, involved in criminal activity, or both, “we can’t make use of it. The problem is in how to implement those 50 points. I can’t do it.”
The problems with the police department, he said, run deep, dating to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“The foundation on which [coalition forces] built the police is a messed-up foundation,” said Jasim, who was a police officer during Saddam Hussein’s regime. “Pretty much what the coalition did is they hired people not depending on their background. They only wanted numbers. Most of those people have served some time in jail.
“Three months ago,” he said through a translator, “I captured a big gang of kidnappers. Unfortunately, they were all policemen.
“That,” he said in English, “is the problem.”
Despite daunting obstacles, officials said, they were optimistic about improving the department.
“We’ve seen great examples of local police making changes in their accountability and discipline,” Kidd said. “I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t be doable over time.”
“We are all brothers here,” said Jamal Taher, chief inspector with the Ministry of the Interior. “We are all citizens of this country. We should all work to improve things.”
Sherko was more direct.
“If you don’t like it, quit,” he said. “If you’re scared, quit. If you are afraid, go home.”
But Jasim said he felt success in the police department would depend on something else: continued American presence.
“If the coalition pulled out of Iraq now,” he said, “the police will become gangs, thieves and looters. We need the coalition to be here at least 10 more years. Pretty much the coalition right now is a safety pin for something big. Only God can stop it.”