Better Communication Earns Public Trust for Iraqi Police
By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 12, 2009 Iraq’s Interior Ministry is a “learning organization” that understands the need to build Iraqis’ confidence in their police force, a coalition advisor said May 8 during a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable conference call.
Army Col. John Maietta is the director of strategic operations in Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq’s directorate of interior affairs. As an embedded advisor, he is responsible for assisting the Interior Ministry’s public relations and media office.
“Compared with the dark days of Saddam Hussein, most Iraqis now have confidence and trust in their police, thanks to the growing skill and professionalism that the coalition has helped them to achieve,” Maietta said. “The job of [the ministry’s public relations staff] is to reinforce those positive feelings and promote continued improvement in the relationship between ordinary citizens and the police who serve them.”
With nearly 500,000 employees across local, national and specialized police units, as well as civilian ministerial personnel, demand for information is high, both internally and externally. The Iraqis carry out most of the centralized public affairs functions typical of any large police organization in the United States, Maietta said, including sending news releases, holding news conferences and community meetings, maintaining a Web site and employee newspaper, and producing public-service advertising. They also produce a weekly news show on a government-run TV channel, and may expand into radio programming.
Most public affairs functions, including message synchronization, are handled by the ministry headquarters in Baghdad, but police officers get blocks of communications training, and each of the provincial police forces has a public affairs staff, Maietta said.
Local police forces also designate spokesmen for “incident command,” Maietta said.
“They are very speedy in their response,” he said. “Obviously, you can appreciate the need to reassure the public [after any security incident]… Local scene: They're right on it with a local spokesman.”
An Interior Ministry spokesman addresses incidents of national significance, Maietta explained. “Typically, we'll see 30 to 40 media representatives coming to the Ministry of Interior for a press conference on major cases [or] major developments in the security environment.”
Additionally, the ministry last year created a team of community relations officers to serve as liaisons with Baghdad-area residents. “Their function is very similar to what a community relations officer does for police forces in the U.S.,” Maietta said. “They're involved in educational programs, conducting ad hoc attitude surveys [and] sensing the public perceptions of the police.”
Through regular communication, Iraqi citizens also are able to assist with crime prevention, Maietta noted.
“A great deal of effort goes toward public education -- encouraging citizen reporting of suspected criminals and terrorists,” he said. “They have a nationwide tip line to receive crime tips; they actively promote citizen support for the fight against crime through their media outlets, through their Web site and [by] other means.”
Better internal communication of ideas and initiatives has helped to improve the professionalism of the Iraqi police forces, Maietta explained.
“In the process of advising the Ministry of Interior on their strategic plans, we decided to introduce a concept of values as part of their strategic vision,” Maietta said. “And at their request, we’ve just added a value -- an institutional value to [the ministry] -- called ‘Allegiance.’ From the top of the organization down, there is a commitment to build a nonsectarian security force.”
Organizational measures to support that goal include an internal-affairs department responsible for crimes committed by police officers, an inspector general department, a ministry court system to try and prosecute officers who've gone astray, and mechanisms for the public to call in anonymously and report allegations of police abuse.
“So although malfeasance always grabs the headlines,” Maietta explained, “literally thousands of people within the [Interior Ministry] are devoted to rooting out the remnants of corruption and really instilling solid commitment to the rule of law all across the organization.”
Due to the security forces’ demonstrated improvements in effectiveness and communication, Iraqi perceptions of security have not been dramatically affected by a recent spike in violence, Maietta said.
“I would say we have seen not some improvement, but very significant improvement in the capability of the Iraqi security forces, both army and police,” Maietta said. “We see just improvements all across the board, in terms of their training, their equipment, their preparedness, their commitment to the rule of law, their commitment to the idea of service to the people.
“And I will be reluctant to make any sweeping judgments based on a sporadic uptick in violence that we see currently,” he continued. “The long-term trend has been very positive. We actually took good note of the survey that came out from ABC and BBC in March, showing a very high degree of confidence by the public in the Iraqi army and Iraqi police forces. And we think the people are right on in terms of their assessment of the situation in Iraq.”
And the Iraqi people know best, he noted. “They live with it every day,” Maietta said. “They have personally experienced those gains, and they openly share their confidence with us.”
(Tim Kilbride works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)