Iraqi cop sees how policing is done in Baltimore

Mosawi queries local officers on building community trust

  • Police Lt. Col. Saad Maan al-Mosawi talks at a news conference about his interest in how Baltimore's police handle community policing, his primary responsibility in Baghdad.
Police Lt. Col. Saad Maan al-Mosawi talks at a news conference… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
February 07, 2010|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Saad Maan al-Mosawi came all the way from Baghdad to Baltimore to learn how Americans police their cities, and here is one of the first questions he posed to a top department official:

"Do you have community policing in Baltimore?"

It's not an easy question to answer.

After years of cops believing that wholesale arrests were the way out of an epidemic of violence, Baltimore police returned to community policing with neighborhood walks and more outreach to help regain the trust of a distrustful citizenry.

Paradoxically, they did it by disbanding the community policing unit.

And that made it difficult for the chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, to explain the concept.

Mosawi is a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi police force responsible for community policing. He oversees a band of officers assigned to locations in Baghdad who build sources, visit business owners, talk to residents and feed valuable tips to investigators to head off suicide bombings and attacks by insurgents.

Standing on East Baltimore Street just a day after arriving on U.S. soil for the first time, he couldn't understand how Baltimore embraces the same concept but without a division of officers to implement it.

Guglielmi explained that every officer in every car needs to be a community cop, not just those officers in one small group. Under the old plan, residents disdained the officers with the cuffs and embraced the officers playing ball with the kids.

No more Good Cop, Bad Cop.

Good Cop, Good Cop.

That's the idea, anyway.

It's unfair to compare violence in Baltimore with violence in Baghdad, but there is some common ground: trust.

The city police spokesman and the Iraqi police colonel agreed that trust between community and police needs to improve. In Baltimore, it means overcoming the culture of silence and retribution embraced by drug dealers. In Baghdad, it means overcoming the fear of militias using violence to advance a political cause or purge a religious or ethnic group.

Here's Guglielmi trying to explain the stop-snitching culture: "There was a movement in which people weren't supposed to talk to police. We're trying to break that."

Here's Mosawi explaining the distrust of police there: "You should be able to trust a policeman, but people had to wonder when they saw our police, 'Were they with the government or with a militia?' Our policeman would hesitate to catch a criminal. He was afraid that the criminal's family, tribe or militia would come after him."

Mosawi talked of a police force far different than the one I saw reporting on the war and touring Baghdad back in 2003, when bombings were as common as looting, and a fledgling group of cops who had been tools of an oppressive government got new marching orders from U.S. troops. I watched as they got their first guns and new patrol cars, and hit the street flanked by Army Humvees with roof-mounted machine guns.

It was a start but also a farce. Cops armed with weapons considered in Iraq to be akin to child's toys rounded up teenagers stealing from burned-out buildings, all while escorted by more heavily armed soldiers. It was demonstration of Iraqi sovereignty at a time when they had no sovereignty at all.

Talk about trying to rebuild trust - the Iraqi police force had to be rebuilt, period. Saddam Hussein's henchmen had to be removed, and the force had to become something that resembled a more traditional municipal law enforcement agency.

And now, a few years later, a top cop named Mosawi, armed with a master's degree and pursuing his doctorate, is throwing around terms like community policing and pressing Baltimore officials on the practice. The 37-year-old lost his father, a prominent judge, to sectarian violence just a few years ago. He had friends killed when Americans bombed a bunker where they thought Hussein had been hiding before the ground war began.

Thursday evening, Mosawi and several of his colleagues joined their brethren in blue patrolling city streets. It fell to Officer Robert Horne to show Mosawi the positive side of interacting with the public.

Horne has his own compelling story. He is one of two Baltimore police officers who speak fluent Arabic, and he travels often to Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. He counsels inmates in state prisons, works closely with imams at city mosques, helps refugees from Darfur settle in Baltimore, and on Thursday he spent time on his cell phone trying to find shelter for a man who had just been released from jail.

Horne, a 16-year veteran who grew up in East Baltimore and said many of his friends turned to drugs and crime, went into the Army and stormed Iraq in the first Gulf War. Now, he says he'd rather help someone than handcuff him, and he took Mosawi on a short tour of Muslim businesses along the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor.

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