When Cops Serve Beyond Borders

By Stephen Owsinski:

Tacitly, we honor many acts of bravery performed by our selfless, courageous cops. We entrust law and order doctrines to their capable hands. But what about our police officers who take a huge leap beyond our borders and serve in foreign countries, training cops in nation-building states?

Some of my police colleagues were called up and went abroad to train police forces of other nations intent on shaping a democratic form of government. Similarly, while acclimating to unfamiliar conditions and cultural polarity, some police retirees assume civil service contracts overseas to train foreign-born cops. Notwithstanding the hardships and sacrifices of being away from loved ones here at home, your nation’s cops are doing good things all over the globe.

In fact, laws were enacted to “hold” a police officer’s place while serving abroad. Because of foreign duty, an anti-termination clause was legislated. That this measure even had to be considered is mind-boggling. Nevertheless, safeguards were implemented, and police departments’ human resource managers reserved seats for those serving abroad. Upon return to the states, their cop job was ready to resume.

The federal government instituted the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act in 1994 (USERRA).

Per the U.S. Department of Labor, USERRA’s purpose is “to minimize the disadvantages to an individual that occur when that person needs to be absent from his or her civilian employment to serve in this country’s uniformed services. USERRA makes major improvements in protecting service member rights and benefits by clarifying the law and improving enforcement mechanisms. It also provides employees with Department of Labor assistance in processing claims.”

Small-town police departments feel the impact when just one of their officers ships out, creating a spot which, stemming from USERRA, cannot be filled by hiring another cop. Adding a salary so as to maintain sworn strength is too costly for modest town budgets. The antidote is to use mutual aid agreements, such as asking for assistance from the county sheriff’s office or big city PDs.

PDs Embrace USERRA

Of the approximately 18,000 police agencies in the U.S., San Antonio PD (SAPD) is one example to illustrate the concept of cops who are Reservists who serve countries that seek nation-building assistance. Currently, roughly 100 SAPD police officers are also Reservists or National Guard. Additionally, 25 SAPD cops are currently serving overseas. Thanks to the USERRA rule, their jobs await them upon return.

Written on the SAPD’s Careers page, “You will find the San Antonio Police Department very supportive should you choose to continue your career in the Guard or Reserve.” Many departments have similar support mechanisms for cops who deploy overseas.

As a U.S. Army Reservist, one of my buddies received orders to serve in Afghanistan. With the requisite paperwork complete (USERRA), he shipped out and served for one year. Our squad was supplemented with cops from other squads in the form of overtime compensation. We sent care packages and looked after his family. Upon his return (sporting an incredible tan), he slid right back into his municipal police officer role. He also brought vast experience to the table. Tons of anecdotal details regarding Afghan police factions were shared, like a compare/contrast exercise. It became a win-win-win—for him, our agency, and the officers who benefitted from his foreign experience. As Jim Rhon intimated, “When you pass something along to someone else, whether it’s an idea, a feeling, or a resource, everybody wins.”

Another cop cohort among my squad is a former NYPD policeman who once sifted through the rubble of the Twin Towers; he was provided “easy to rinse” plastic bins and assigned to the body parts collection detail. Years after 9/11, he transplanted his police career to Florida. He, too, still serves on the city streets as a cop as well as a Nation Guardsman, ready should military orders summon his service.

Similarly, retired law enforcement officers partake in democracy-building efforts by going abroad as privately hired police trainers. Private defense contractors employ police veterans who ship to foreign soil to train that country’s police officers in tactics, strategies, and the components American cops use to effect law and order.

Albeit not constrained by our previous example (active-duty police officers going abroad), police retirees have no threats to job security like those confronted prior to USERRA. So, at their leisure, veterans can endure the training mission rather infinitely. However, the retired, independent trainers have no access to USERRA benefits, coverage, and representation. As a counter to that fact, compensation is quite handsome (often in the six-figure range annually). Providing your police license is from a certifying state or national agency, as long as you have some training experience, you are good to go!

Whether voluntary or by military orders, our flag representing democratic freedoms shrouds each courageous cop, emblematic of why they serve in the first place.

The Downside

And for all good things performed overseas by our nation’s law enforcement officers, some meet resistance and perish on foreign soil. Each may have been a blip on the screen in the name of duty, but consider the monumental task they endeavored to achieve. Cultural barriers aside, these honorable cops fulfilled their passion to serve, despite the distinctly different values and belief systems of foreign folks. As a Fox News piece described, some U.S. trainers are killed by the very hands of those to whom they offer theirs. The dangers sometimes present with smiling faces on the same team under the guise of solidarity—until alliances are severed by barbaric betrayals.

These dynamics certainly put into context the perilous counterintelligence and counterterrorism duties performed by our CIA operatives who, rather autonomously, conduct national security measures in plain sight yet cloaked thanks to intense indoctrination conducted by American trainers.

On the flipside, in September 2016, cops here at home engaged an Afghan-born man who was allegedly hell-bent on bombing several locations in NYC and NJ. The bomber had recently visited Afghanistan and returned to the U.S. as a radicalized individual who hatched a plan of destruction. The paradox? Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, was here studying criminal justice and had planted as many as ten “pressure cooker bombs” in high-populace areas such as train stations.

Per a Fox News report, Rahami detested American culture and its homosexual population. In an exclusive interview granted to Fox reporters, Rahami’s wife claimed he was a “deadbeat dad” (child support arrears) and, after a visit to Afghanistan to visit family, he presented with another wife and child.

Rahami and his family resided above their family business—First American Fried Chicken takeout. Therein is a dose of irony.

Defense Contracts

One global employer bills itself as “a central resource for licensed law enforcement personnel who provide training, security services, or augmentation of existing police forces worldwide. Since 1994 [the same year USERRA was enacted], governments have relied on us to assist and train local police forces in post-conflict nations. To date, we have deployed more than 10,000 law enforcement professionals in 16 countries across the globe.

“As an industry leader in providing experienced law enforcement professionals to missions around the world, we are helping nations create modern, professional law enforcement institutions that maintain the rule of law.” Chosen by the federal government to be the conduit between American cops and the foreign police and security forces they train, major purveyors of state-side police assets coordinate and maintain police trainer contracts.

So the spoils of war pervade, and American cops rooted in doing the right thing serve beyond our borders. To revisit the Jim Rhon quote above, the last part is largely accurate—until backstabbing allied forces supplant American altruism for misguided jihadi notions. Not “everybody wins” except those who are in it for the right reasons.

To illustrate the core message of this article, I suggest watching the movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which depicts American operators abroad and the inherent dangers in instilling security measures in foreign nations. Whether American cops, retirees, CIA operatives, or defense-contracted security specialists, the goal is to support the birth of democracy and rule of law doctrines. As often cited in American culture, “Freedom isn’t free!”

To conclude this piece on a noble note, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial credo is succinct: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit.  He is currently a researcher and writer.

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