PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- As part of an urgent attempt to give Haiti a functioning police force, 353 soldiers from the Haitian military are participating this week in a six-day crash course in how to be police officers.
Their hasty and rudimentary training is a stopgap until Haiti's police force is reconstructed. About 70 percent of the 3,000 police have deserted, leaving too few competent officers to patrol the streets.
Trainers from the U.S. Justice Department and Canada are giving "overviews of Haitian laws and human rights -- basically telling them not to use the bumpers of their cars to do interrogations or hook people up to electrical wires," a U.S. official involved in the training said wryly.
A new police academy that is to train 6,000 officers will not open until January. U.S. military commanders have decided that they cannot wait, because their own troops are doing more and more policing.
"I know what it's like to be chief of police in Panama City with no Panamanians working for you, and I don't want that job again," said Col. Michael Sullivan, who oversaw policing there after the 1989 U.S. invasion. Colonel Sullivan is the chief U.S. military liaison to the Haitian police.
Since U.S. forces arrived a month ago, there have been numerous incidents of retribution, including beatings or killings of suspected military collaborators. But those incidents are decreasing, Colonel Sullivan said, and common crime is low.
The officers who began training Monday will begin work next week with new uniforms and, ideally, new attitudes. A committee of Haitian colonels named by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide selected what are purported to be the 353 "best and the brightest" Haitian soldiers, Colonel Sullivan said.
Eight more weekly courses are to be held, until 3,000 former soldiers have attended or until the police academy's first graduates finish their four-month course in April.
Capital police stations now have yellow-hatted International Police Monitors, police from 30 nations, headed by former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The monitors are to watch over Haitian police, noting any human rights violations and preventing abuses if possible. Now totaling about 500, the monitors are to number 1,000 by the end of next month.
U.S. Military Police also are playing an increasing role. In the past week they have installed themselves in the capital's police stations, whose Haitian commanders are mostly missing because of desertions and reassignments.
"Last week, we weren't supposed to ride with [Haitian police]. We were supposed to just watch. But it didn't work. . . . It's still not working," said an MP who asked not to be named.
"Every time we do one plan, we have to change that, scratch that. They're up to about Plan D now."