By Air Force Master Sgt. Sarah R. Webb
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 29, 2009 - In America, we look to our local police to provide a sense of security, protect our streets, help in time of need and be role models for our citizens. Every day, our police force gives us reason to trust and depend on them. Because that same trust and confidence hasn't always been felt for the police force in Afghanistan, 19 Afghan National Police officers from the Andar district here were handpicked by their commander to learn engagement skills that will lead to improved, proactive policing techniques.
Civil affairs members of the provincial reconstruction team here conducted a course designed to coach, mentor and train the Andar police officers. The instruction covered techniques on how to interact with the population, gather information and develop relationships and trust between the police and the people they serve.
The course was broken down into three parts, beginning with an introduction to what civil affairs is about and how to shape public opinion. The second was a lesson on public policing, and the third was a practical exercise conducted at the district's bazaar.
"We would like the people from Andar to see the [police] team working closely with coalition forces," said Army Spc. Hyrum Robb, civil military operations center noncommissioned officer from Salt Lake City. "Then we want the [Afghan police officers] to take the lead with confidence in their training."
The proactive policing technique, Robb explained, is a method that involves the public to assist in the security of their village.
"Many times, the officers are not from the same district where they serve," he said. "Once they build relationships with the villagers, they start becoming a part of the village."
Acting on the concerns of the public can improve the police force's reputation over time, Robb said. "We hope to help them take the initial steps for this productive interaction," he added.
In the past, the police officers would patrol the area from behind their weapons in their trucks. They didn't stop to see what people thought of them, nor did they show the people they were there to assist in providing security. The program is designed to get the police officers out of the trucks and put them on the same level as the shopkeepers.
"We are hoping that the [police officers] will continue to use the engagement techniques and become welcome members of the village," Robb said. "As devoted members of the village, [they] will have the trust and confidence of the people that they serve. We want the villagers to have a positive view of their government and feel comfortable telling the [police] about any problems they have, to include insurgent activities."
After completing the first portion of instruction at Combat Outpost Four Corners, the training moved to the bazaar in Andar for the practical portion.
"The purpose of holding the practical exercise at the bazaar was to have the [police officers] observe as civil affairs engaged with the public," Robb said. "After our engagement, I chose two [police officers] to speak to a shop owner and his customers while being observed by the civil affairs team."
When Robb asked the police officers how they felt they did, their huge smiles showed how proud they were of themselves and how well they felt they were received by the people.
"We learned that when we talk to the shop keepers, they tell us that we are not the dangerous people that they thought we were," one policeman said. "He told us that we are just humans like them. This is good for us to hear."
A squad leader for the police team agreed. "Shop keepers are happy that the police are here asking them questions, Sayeed Shah said. "This is the first time we've asked what they want, and this is the first time I've felt like the shop keepers are giving us honest answers."
One village elder was so touched by the interaction that, on the verge of tears, he begged the police officers for help to solve his village's security problem. Before this event, Robb said, the village elders and police had no interaction or communication.
Before departing the bazaar, Robb brought the group back together to critique their performance.
"You did really well," he told the police officers. "If you continue to engage with the people in the village, they will grow to trust you. Once you become part of the village, it will help you make it safer."
Shah promised they'd do their best.
"Some of us have been working honestly for the last 10 years," he said. "As we have the last drop of blood in our bodies, we will do our job."
(Air Force Master Sgt. Sarah R. Webb serves in the provincial reconstruction team public affairs office in Afghanistan's Ghazni province.)