Police face crucial test, UN to withdraw peacekeepers
Their new uniforms clean and crisp, the Haitian officers chat with street vendors and school kids as they stroll through a neighbourhood of the dense capital, a practice in the sort of community policing the national force is embracing as it works to reinvent itself.
The patrolmen on this morning walked with a pair of veteran officers on loan from New York City, Haitian-Americans who are helping the national police prepare to take on greater responsibility as the United Nations reduces the number of peacekeeping troops in this long-troubled country.
Disdained by many as abusive or inept, officers of Haiti's force now say their new approach is beginning to pay off.
"People are starting to give us the kinds of useful statements we didn't get in the past," rookie officer Gama Jameson said as he patrolled the district of Petionville with the New Yorkers. "I think the people are feeling more comfortable with us."
New York City Police Sergeant Rochener Gilot, who worked as a Haitian officer in the 1990s before moving to the United States, closely watched the rookies work on building trust with local residents.
"The population's comfort level with police is not going to change overnight, but we're removing the myth that police are not friendly or approachable. People here are starting to see that they can talk to the cops," he said.
Haitians will soon rely more on their police to maintain security as the United Nations (UN) downsizes the peacekeeping force it has kept in Haiti since 2004, when a violent rebellion swept the country. While the UN will maintain a police contingent of 2,601, it will cut its multinational troop size from 5,021 to 2,370 in June.
Many people wonder if the Haitian officers will be ready.