By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 29, 2008 - Afghan National Police officers are getting help rebuilding from U.S and other countries' troops, but they're also getting a boost from friends they may never meet. Steve Newton started the Law Enforcement Equipment Program as a way to provide used gear for American armed forces units to use in training or equipping friendly foreign police forces. The program accepts donations of used equipment from U.S. law enforcement departments and helps get it overseas.
"We simply act as a go-between for the American law enforcement community and the military," Newton said of the organization, more commonly known as "LEEP."
Fulfilling its mission requires help on the other side of the world, however, and that's where Air Force Master Sgt. Buffie C. Verhagen comes in.
Since she's serving as a police mentor and trainer on a provincial reconstruction team, she checked out the LEEP Web site after her father, a retired Houston police officer, told her about it. She let Newton know about her work with the Afghan police officers and has been receiving equipment through the program for about a year.
The equipment is particularly welcome, too.
"The overall condition of the Afghan National Police was, and is, still in poor condition, although strides have been made toward improvements, especially with training," Verhagen said. "Any gear, including cold-weather items, or any item related to law enforcement can be used."
LEEP has stepped up, providing pistol holsters, handcuff cases, ammunition holders and tactical vests, she said. While those donated items fill a tangible void, they also work to foster trust and respect between the Afghan National Police and coalition forces.
"We tell the (Afghan National Police) that the equipment was donated from police officers in the U.S. specifically for them," Verhagen said. "This shows our commitment to their development and really shows how the U.S. as a whole is working to provide assistance."
It also tightens a bond that spans geographic boundaries. Despite the differences between American and Afghan societies, the police officers share a common bond, Verhagen said.
Verhagen, who will be returning home soon, is grateful for LEEP and what it provided her, her team and the Afghan police officers who received the equipment.
"(It's) great in that it builds relationships with a specific U.S. military member or team and then sends resources tailored to the needs of a particular area," she said. "It's a fantastic way for our U.S. police to assist a country still in dire need."
LEEP has 1,200 pounds of gear available to ship to servicemembers in Afghanistan or Iraq, its two main shipping destinations. Shipping costs have proved to be a challenge for the Missouri-based program, however, and LEEP's administrators still are working out how to get the equipment into the hands that can use it.
The Law Enforcement Equipment Program is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.