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American Bar Association Aids Law Enforcement

•  National News     updated  2009/04/29 11:30


Police officials are often the first contact a person has with a country's legal system. The American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) helps train law enforcement officials around the world so that the first citizen-police encounter is a positive one.

ABA ROLI is a nonprofit program that implements legal reform programs in more than 40 countries. It has more than 400 professional staff working in the United States and abroad, including a cadre of short- and long-term expatriate volunteers who, since the program's inception in 2007, have contributed more than $200 million in donated legal assistance.

ABA ROLI "fully recognizes the direct link between democratization efforts and the ability of states to protect [their] citizens and maintain order while protecting individual liberties and civil and political rights," said Mary Greer, senior adviser to ABA ROLI's Criminal Law Reform Program.

"We work with training academies, whether they're prosecutors, police academies, or, to some extent, judicial academies," Greer said. "Often our work with police is in the context of a changing criminal-procedure-code environment," she told America.gov.

Changing a country's criminal procedures to conform to international standards means a shift in roles and responsibilities, Greer explained. In former Soviet Union countries, she said, police and prosecutors ruled supreme under the old system. Now, judges, not police, issue search warrants and approve arrest warrants.

ABA ROLI's goals when conducting training overseas are to insure that international standards of fairness and transparency are met. "Fair trial standards," Greer said, "start with investigations that are conducted by people with the expertise as well as the knowledge of human rights - whether [those] human rights are victim's rights or the accused or witnesses."

PROMOTING A RULE-OF-LAW CULTURE AMONG POLICE

One of ABA ROLI's most recent programs is a comprehensive review and reform of the Panamanian police curriculum and training methods. Begun in February, the goal of the yearlong effort is to help Panamanian police trainers in promoting a rule-of-law culture among Panamanian police.

Michael McCullough, director of ABA's Latin America and the Caribbean ROLI program, told America.gov that a 2006 survey conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank concluded that 46 percent of Panamanians believed the criminal justice system fails to punish criminals.

"A lot of citizen confidence is going to be based on their perceptions of the police," McCullough said.

"Police in many cases are the first contact that a citizen has with the legal system - and sometimes the only direct contact," he said. "So to a large extent, the impressions that citizens have of the legal system will result from their impressions of the police. We think it is very important for the police to be highly professional, ethical and competent in the performance of their duties."

Especially important is that the police understand how to conduct effective investigations, he said.

"If [police] don't effectively gather the proper evidence and follow the chain of custody and comply with the constitutional guarantees, the prosecutor's hands will be tied at trial," McCullough said.

The ABA ROLI program in Panama, which is funded in part by the U.S. government, is part of a larger agreement between the governments of Panama and the United States to reform Panama's justice sector, McCullough said.

INTERNATIONAL RAMIFICATIONS

A properly trained police force enhances the international community's efforts to control transnational crime, Greer said.

For example, an ABA ROLI training program for police officers in Ukraine has made extradition requests by the United States proceed more smoothly, she said. Likewise, cases involving the trafficking of women from Moldova to Ukraine were facilitated by ABA ROLI training regarding legal issues between jurisdictions.

"So much more crime is global," Greer said. "Terrorism, money laundering, cybercrime are truly global crimes."

"You really have to work even harder ... at trying to devise a regional strategy within country-specific priorities," she said.

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