Published on: Tuesday, 5/29/2001, A section,
edition, zone, A01
Misconduct, Corruption by U.S. Police Mar Bosnia Mission U.N., Europeans Query Push To Bring In More Officers
By Colum Lynch
Special to The Washington Post
UNITED NATIONS -- In the five years since international police officers were sent to Bosnia to help restore law and order, the U.N. police mission there has faced numerous charges of misconduct, corruption and sexual impropriety. But in virtually every case, the allegations have been hushed up by sending officers home, often without a full investigation, according to internal U.N. reports and interviews with U.S. and European officials.
The troubles of the U.N. police mission in Bosnia have important consequences for the Bush administration. Eager to scale back military commitments, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is pushing to reduce the 3,350 American soldiers on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia and replace them with civilian police.
But some U.N. and European officials question the wisdom of shifting responsibility onto the international police force without first addressing its flaws, including low recruitment standards, a hazy command structure and the ability of individual officers to act with near impunity.
"Here we are, international police officers hoping to demonstrate and impress the locals with democratic policing and high moral values, and we're actually presenting them with one or two people who ought to be investigated and locked up," said Richard Monk, a top British police officer who served as the U.N. police commissioner in 1997.
Among the 1,832 U.N. police in Bosnia are 161 officers from the United States. Although the record of the U.S. contingent is no worse than others, senior American officials acknowledge serious problems in selecting and training U.S. police officers to serve in Bosnia. That job has been given to a private, Texas-based corporation, DynCorp Technical Services, under an exclusive, $15 million annual contract with the State Department.
In the past year alone, at least three American policemen were removed from the Bosnian mission for sexual misconduct and exceeding their authority, according to U.N. officials.
In prior cases, several other U.S. officers had been forced to resign under suspicion of committing statutory rape, abetting prostitution and accepting valuable gifts from Bosnian officials. Yet none was prosecuted. The most serious punishment imposed on an American officer was dismissal and the loss of a $4,600 bonus.
Asked about the allegations, DynCorp issued a statement voicing disappointment "that the misconduct of a few individuals has cast a shadow on the more than 2,000 police monitors who have helped to achieve the U.N. mission to rebuild these nations."
"Upon learning of the allegations from U.N. officials, we acted swiftly and responsibly, terminating and repatriating the individuals involved," the company said but refuses to disclose how many U.S. officers have been sent home.
International police have diplomatic immunity from prosecution in Bosnia, and unless their governments waive that immunity, the most severe punishment the United Nations can impose on renegade officers is to send them home.
Thomas Miller, the U.S. ambassador in Bosnia, conceded that in a race to find American police willing to serve abroad, the U.S. contingent accepted some officers who were unfit to serve on the International Police Task Force, or IPTF.
"In terms of the quality of U.S. IPTF folks, I have seen some really good ones," Miller said. "And I've heard about some not so good ones. No, let's be honest, bad ones."
American officials say the failings are due to inexperience in international policing and the absence of a national police force like France's Gendarmerie or Italy's Carabinieri. American participation in U.N. civilian police, or CivPol, missions has increased from about 50 American officers in Haiti in 1993 to about 880 serving today in U.N. missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.
President Bill Clinton issued a directive in February 2000 acknowledging that "the current process used by our government to recruit, prepare, train and deploy civilian police officers to CivPol operations is not adequate."
Last summer, the White House asked the FBI and police commissioners from major U.S. cities to provide a reserve of police officers who could be sent abroad to serve in U.N. missions. But the FBI and big city police departments demurred. "They slammed the door on us," said a former Clinton administration official.
Recruiting Difficulties When the U.N. mission in Bosnia began in 1996, DynCorp scoured U.S. police departments in search of bored or underpaid officers looking for a change of pace. Advertisements in police publications promised adventure in a distant land for as much as $100,000 a year. To meet the State Department's demand for police, the company hired many retired officers, including some older than 65.
According to U.N. and DynCorp officials, many of the U.S. officers have performed nobly, even donating money and labor to local charities.
"The top 10 percent [of the American contingent] were fantastic: They are what made the mission," said a former U.N. police officer who requested anonymity. "But the bottom 10 percent made your eyes water."
One former Illinois state trooper was wearing a pacemaker when he arrived in the town of Stolac to set up the U.N. police headquarters, according to Steve Smith, a former officer from Santa Cruz, Calif., who served as the U.N.'s regional commander in Stolac.
"There was [another] guy, he was very elderly, in his sixties, that couldn't stay awake," Smith said. "He was very overweight, he waddled rather than walked. Neither one of them could have passed a physical."
But the main trouble with American officers, in Smith's view, was that they were difficult to command.
"It's easy to keep the French guys in line because they come from the Gendarmerie Nationale and they get an evaluation at the end of their stay," he said. "For the Americans, on the other hand, there are no professional consequences unless they want to keep working for DynCorp. The problem is that you have no hammer. . . .
"They're making $85,000 in a place where everyone else is making $5,000 and they're chasing whores, they're shacking up with young women, and they're basically just having a good time," Smith said.
Although U.N. officials said they were disappointed in the Americans, they conceded that the U.S. contingent was far from the weakest in the mission. Indonesia, Pakistan and Nepal sent police officers who could not speak English -- the working language of the IPTF -- or drive a vehicle, officials said. Jordanians, Pakistanis and Germans have also been sent home for sexual misconduct.
The Ukrainian contingent in Stolac made it abundantly clear that they had come to Bosnia to make money, not reform the local police, Smith said. He said their compound was packed with cars they were reselling for a profit back home.
The IPTF was created by the Dayton peace accord, which ended Bosnia's civil war in 1995. Its task was to integrate the country's warring Muslim, Croat and Serb officers into a national police force and monitor their activities. However, the U.N. officers are prohibited from carrying arms and do not have authority to make arrests; their role is mainly to monitor and advise local police.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton agreement, has described the police mission as its "weakest" component.
Murky Chain of Command Among the problems is a fuzzy command structure that gives the U.N. brass limited authority over police officers recruited from more than 45 countries with widely varying law enforcement systems.
Mark Kroeker, now police commissioner in Portland, Ore., said that in an American police department, the chief "calls all the shots." If there are allegations of misconduct, he said, "you do your investigation, you impose discipline, and it's over." But in Bosnia, where he served as a deputy commissioner until 1998, "There were so many overlapping policies and rules and laws that it made it very diffuse."
The final say in disciplinary matters, according to Kroeker and U.N. officials, rests with the home governments, which seldom are interested in prosecuting or even thoroughly investigating the muddy allegations that arise in the Balkans.
One American officer was fired in December after the United Nations learned that he had paid 6,000 German marks -- about $2,900 -- to acquire "ownership" of a Moldovian prostitute he met at a brothel in Sarajevo.
She lived with the officer for several months before leaving him in a quarrel and returning to the brothel, according to senior U.S. and U.N. officials.
Some commanders took a lenient view. "This American was a rather innocent dupe," said a senior U.N. official. "It's actually a love story. He fell in love with this girl and bought her freedom."
Miller, the U.S. ambassador, said he had little sympathy for the officer.
"Maybe I'm just simplistic, but money was paid for a human being. . . . That's wrong. That's just plain and simply wrong," Miller said.
That incident was only the latest in a series of alleged misconduct cases that have tarnished American police officials in Bosnia.
David McBride, 53, a former Oklahoma commissioner of public safety, rose quickly through the IPTF ranks to become deputy police commissioner before he was forced to resign in August 1999.
An internal disciplinary panel concluded that he had violated the code of conduct by accepting financial favors from local government authorities, including a free room at the Interior Ministry's guest house, a mobile phone and use of a VW Golf automobile. When McBride traveled to the provincial town of Jace for a meeting, a local Bosnian-Croat police chief, Jozo Lucic, paid his hotel bill, according to U.N. investigators and McBride himself.
Senior U.N. and DynCorp officials said the gifts and McBride's failure to file reports on his meetings with local authorities had created at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
McBride contends that he was a victim of character assassination by U.N. personnel who clashed with him over police policy. In a telephone interview, he said he had told his superiors about the gifts. He also furnished copies of e-mail messages in which he informed U.N. authorities about where he was living and who had supplied his cell phone.
"At no time ever did I do anything improper, unethical or illegal," McBride said. "Had I known what I know now -- that things in Bosnia are political and blown out of proportion -- I would be much more careful to avoid putting myself in a position that could be construed, for political purposes, as being inappropriate."
Nevertheless, European officials cite the McBride case and other alleged instances of American misconduct as evidence that DynCorp has provided the United Nations with substandard police.
"I have always been concerned about how the United States did its recruitment," said Eric Morris, a senior U.N. official who set up the panel that examined McBride's activities. "The United States says that they have no choice because they don't have a national police force. We always felt quality control was lacking."
In another case, Peter Alzugaray, 53, a former Miami police officer, attracted the attention of U.N. investigators in the spring of 1997, a year after he allegedly began a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old Bosnian girl in the town of Drvar.
"He said he was adopting her. She said that he had given her two rings, and that he was going to take her to America," said a U.N. official familiar with the case. "And the mother signed a document saying the girl could live with this guy."
A DynCorp official said the company fired Alzugaray and stripped him of his police gear as soon as it learned of the situation. But he disappeared before the company could send him back to the United States, the DynCorp official said.
Alzugaray acknowledged in an interview that the United Nations accused him of having sexual relations with a minor. But he said the Bosnian woman was actually 17 years old when he met her. And, he said, they waited a year before they began a sexual relationship, got married and moved to Miami.
"If she would have been a minor, would the Americans have given her a visa?" to come to Miami, he asked.
The relationship ended, he said, when she learned he had lied to her about owning a house in America and having only one ex-wife and two children. After arriving in Miami, they moved into a room in his sister's home, and he admitted that he had been married three times and had six children, Alzugaray said.
Last July, he said, the Bosnian woman visited an aunt in Texas, "met a young man and never came back."
U.N. officials insist that there has been steady improvement in the quality of international police serving in Bosnia, East Timor and elsewhere. DynCorp, for example, now requires American officers to undergo more strenuous fitness tests.
"To their credit, there has been a visible tightening of the standards," a U.N. official said, referring to the United States. "They have gone from a horrible standard to an adequate one."
Yet the U.S. contingent continues to face disciplinary problems.
In December, two American, two British and two Spanish police officers were forced out of the IPTF after they overstepped their authority by raiding three brothels and freeing 34 women. The top U.N. official in Bosnia, Jaques Klein, initially described the men as overzealous but superb officers who had acted out of moral outrage.
Under questioning by U.N. police investigators, however, some of the officers admitted having had sexual relations with women they had rescued, according to U.N. sources and an internal U.N. document. A British officer who participated in the raid told U.N. investigators that his colleagues had been regular customers at the three brothels.