By Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Thompson
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 10, 2009 - Historically in Iraqi culture, police and judges didn't work with each other to solve cases. That is beginning to change as the nascent police investigative branch in Iraq's Wasit province is working hand-in-hand with the province's investigative judges. "Our relationship with the Iraqi police is good," said the chief judge in Hayy, Iraq, whose name is withheld to protect his identity.
Even though the communication and relationships have improved, it is a still a new way of conducting police work here. Building cases with evidence requires a new skill set for the Iraqi police.
"The Iraqi police investigators are new to their job, and lack overall experience," the judge said. "We are also lacking the number of investigators as well. The number of investigators we have directly influences and affects the judicial process."
The chief judge for Wasit province, in coordination with the province's director of police, is working to change that by training a group of 15 police investigators two days per week for a month in the proper way to gather and process evidence. The training is scheduled to continue throughout the year, with a new group of 15 investigators attending every month.
"We've certainly seen progress," Army Capt. Patrick Gilman, 41st Fires Brigade staff judge advocate, said. "Now, there are relationships that are actually working and functioning in large part because the judges are willing to work with the police and the police are willing to work with the judges, which is huge."
Gilman leads a task force that includes retired Marine Corps colonel and federal prosecutor Wayne Rich, who serves as the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team's rule of law advisor, and a team of law enforcement professionals charged with working alongside Iraqi police station chiefs and judges.
The task force is helping to update the current system by interviewing all detainees, collecting biometric data on them and entering the data into a central database.
"We compile the data and, once synthesized, we will then hand it over to the Iraqi police and the judges throughout the province," Gilman said.
Another big improvement in the judicial system, Gilman said, is the citizenry's perception of the police.
"Now, civilians are feeling a lot more comfortable and are trusting the police here to protect them instead of oppress them," Gilman said. "That mindset assists the judicial process, because the civilians are more willing and capable of reporting criminal activity, as well as testifying in front of judges, because they are realizing the police are there for their protection."
The task force members also look at the detention facilities during these visits. They look at space for the detainees, how the detainees are separated, the access the detainees have to an attorney, whether they have seen a judge yet, and the basic necessities such as toilets, sinks and showers. The information they gather will be forwarded to Iraq's Interior Ministry once all the assessments are complete.
The facility in Hayy is clean, and it's not overcrowded, Gilman said. "Unfortunately, the plumbing is lacking. The conditions are not as sanitary as we would like, which is not uncommon to find." However, he noted, the plumbing is no better in the Iraqi police station chief's office.
The task force has completed 22 missions so far, in assessing detention facilities, inputting biometric data into a database, interviewing detainees and assessing how the judges and police are working together.
Gilman said the willingness of police and judges to work together and train each other on their respective duties shows that Iraqis are continuing to improve in implementing and adhering to their own laws.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Thompson serves with the 41st Fires Brigade.)