Foreign police officers here to make expats feel at home

Former policemen from Northern Ireland and the Philippines have taken up posts as community officers in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Gordon Dalzell, a veteran police officer who served in Northern Ireland for three decades, never expected to find himself patrolling along the Corniche in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. But his new job, acting as a uniformed liaison between Abu Dhabi Police and the expatriate community, came naturally, he said. "Community policing is the core function of every police service," said Mr Dalzell, who was wearing an Abu Dhabi Police uniform as The National shadowed him and his co-officers. "Every police officer, whether their task is traffic or [criminal investigation], they all have a responsibility."

Five other officers from Northern Ireland and three from the Philippines have arrived in the city with skills they acquired throughout their aggregate 200 years of police service. "I don't think we would be faced with a situation that we had never dealt with before," said Mr Dalzell, who also served in the military in the Kosovo war.

Those skills will be put to a different kind of test in Abu Dhabi. According to a YouGov survey commissioned by The National, 97 per cent of people who live in the UAE feel safe, while 72 per cent of people in Abu Dhabi said they felt "very safe". Those perceptions seemed linked to nationality, with 68 per cent of Emiratis and 67 per cent of Arab expatriates saying they felt "very safe", against 55 per cent of Westerners and 48 per cent of Asians. The programme aims to address that discrepancy by building trust based on common language and culture.

Steven Jones, a retired sergeant who served in Northern Ireland for 30 years, said: "It is naive to believe that police can work on their own. They have to work in partnership with the community. "We need to work with all the people all the time in order to build that trust. You cannot demand trust, it has to be earned, and that does not happen overnight." The Minister of Interior believes that crime can be prevented by addressing public concerns in residential areas before they become serious, and by dealing promptly with petty crimes and antisocial behaviour.

Lt Col Mubarak bin Mehairoum, the acting director of the Abu Dhabi Community Police Department, said "Alhamdulillah, we are pleased with the work we are doing. We, as police, need to work with the community. We go to them and see how we can work together against crime and how to solve their problems." Ideally, police say, everyone with a concern should come forward and seek help. The community officers make it more comfortable for expatriates to do so, and their job is to take those concerns to the authority in charge of the issue and make sure it is dealt with.

"We not only refer it to them, but follow it up and then provide feedback to the person and ensure he or she is satisfied," Col bin Mehairoum said. "It is not an easy task to get the people to come to the police and talk about their concerns. People are still accustomed to the police's old style, so the police have to work hard to change that perception." Colleen Robinson, the director of events at the Canadian Business Council of Abu Dhabi, met the officers while they were navigating Khalidiya and called the programme a fantastic idea.

"It would be, I hate to say it, a relief," Ms Robinson said. "I think the police are good but I find also when it comes to traffic and accidents, none of us quite understand what to do. To see a more familiar face who speaks the language, that will ease that tension, the problem of 'What do I do?'." Before the officers began patrolling in the capital, they went through an orientation programme on UAE law and culture. They all said they did research on their own before landing in Abu Dhabi.

Dean Sterling, another veteran officer, said: "We made it a very important thing for ourselves to make sure we can gain as much knowledge as we could. "What we want to do is to gain knowledge first, and bring our knowledge with the experience we have acquired in policing to the various communities to help them in whatever way we can." As well as meeting residents and addressing their issues, officers are also involved in school visits. The officers meet headmasters and children, telling them about the new police philosophy.

More recruits are being brought from other countries to represent all major expatriate communities here. The force is now considering applicants from South Africa and Morocco. The community policing programme in Abu Dhabi was initiated by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, in 2003. Col bin Mehairoum said: "If someone lives in Abu Dhabi and sees no crime but feels that something might happen, we want to delete that feeling. We want everyone to feel not 99 per cent safe, but 100 per cent safe."