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US starts community police program in Haiti

November 23, 2013

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The U.S. State Department has begun a community policing program in Haiti that aims to strengthen ties between officers and the neighborhoods they patrol in a country where police are largely mistrusted.

Stuart Smith, director of the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said Friday that the program hopes that by building trust with police, residents will share information about crime and other matters.

The program began in April when 40 members of the unit took courses that included ethics, human rights and communications.

The officers now conduct foot patrols in the Delmas district of the capital and have so far visited about a dozen schools to educate children about their work in law enforcement. They’ve been joined by Haitian-American officers from the New York Police Department who serve as mentors.

Haitian police want to make the program nationwide.

The Haitian National Police Department has only 10,000 officers in a country of 10 million people and has gotten a bad rap since it was created in 1995. Many people in Haiti don’t trust the force and accuse officers of collecting bribes and beating people instead of catching criminals.

Police abuse has been a problem of late in Delmas, a city in the crowded capital that is home to more than 300,000 people. Delmas police officers in April were blamed for beating two men, one of them to death, as they faced eviction from the makeshift encampment in which they had lived since the 2010 earthquake.

Such heavy-handed tactics were on the mind of a few students at a high school that officers visited Friday to explain their work. One teenage girl wanted to know why police officers gas protesters. Another wanted to know why police officers seem to protect only wealthy Haitians.

“We’re here for everyone,” Inspector Salvador Etienne said. “We don’t make a distinction. Everyone gets the same service.”

The agency hopes to add another 5,000 officers by 2016.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has contributed between $15 and $20 million annually toward security programs in Haiti the past five years, Smith said.

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