By Kristen Miller
As a retired sheriff’s deputy with nearly 29 years in law enforcement, Tim Robbins of Cokato was able to spend time in East Africa providing some much needed police outreach and training last month.
Robbins, who has experience as a law enforcement trainer and SWAT leader, retired in 2011 and became involved with International Police Outreach, a ministry of the Christian organization, Safe Harbor International.
According to its website, International Police Outreach provides professional training of Sudanese and Ugandan law enforcement personnel “preparing them for the overwhelming task of serving the thousands of survivors of genocide as they return to cities and villages in southern Sudan and areas of northern Uganda.”
“The goal and focus [of the Christian organization]” Robbins said, “is to create a safe environment for children and people by training police in ethical conduct.”
The organization also provides relief services in times of disaster. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, International Police Outreach sent teams to New Orleans to assist families of officers who were needed on the front lines.
Not only did the organization’s mission motivate Robbins to join in the cause, but it also gave him something to do during his early retirement. He retired at the end of 2011 from the Carver County Sheriff’s Department.
“I knew it was time to retire, but I also knew it wasn’t time for me to sit on the porch,” Robbins commented.
Robbins also spent nine years as a child in East Africa, growing up in Tanzania, where his father was a missionary teacher. Therefore, this trip was very much a homecoming for him, he noted.
Robbins applied to International Police Outreach (IPO) and was then accepted to join a group of volunteers on a three-week mission trip to Uganda and Kenya Sept. 8-29.
Volunteers with IPO provide police officers training free of charge in the following areas:
• ethics in law enforcement;
• defensive tactics for officer safety;
• humane prisoner control; and,
• community policing and building relationships with businesses, churches and neighborhoods in the community, rather than being an occupying force.
Robbins noted that in many Third World nations, police officers are feared rather than seen as a resource people can trust, particularly with the amount of corruption in many of the governments. This is an effort to turn that around, though it’s going to be a slow process, he said.
In both countries, the police force can often appear to be the enemy rather than giving people a sense of security, Robbins noted. These trainings are an effort to change that. But, like the story of the mustard seed, he said, it’s going to be a long process that will need reinforcement.
Robbins and his team arrived in Uganda with a mission to train a number of police officers through connections the leader of his group had within the country.
The mission was quickly halted, however, when they were informed they needed official permission from the inspector general of police, or chief of police.
As bureaucracy tends to go, getting permission took Robbins and his team much longer than anticipated and they were left with only one full day of training.
Robbins spent the remaining week of his trip in Kenya, where he had a much different experience. Part of that was having landed in Nairobi two hours before the Westgate shopping mall attack that resulted in more than 70 deaths, including six Kenyan officers.
“Westgate was very much Kenya’s 911,” Robbins said. Though there wasn’t the extent of casualties, he added.
Though he wasn’t involved directly as hard as it was for him to stay away he did talk with officers during and after the attack on how to cope with what was happening and provide support. Robbins noted that the terrorists responsible for the Westgate attacks released the Muslims and started killing and even torturing innocent people.
On the policing side, friendly fire had been a problem, since there was a lack of communication when response to the incident transferred from a police operation to a military operation.
In response, Robbins and his team could provide future training in incident management that could help in those kinds of events, he said.
The main focus during his week in Kenya was on developing a police chaplain program for the 45,000-member Kenya Police Service. The goal is to train a chaplain for each county (47) to help officers deal and cope with various issues and assist in their faith walk, Robbins noted.
Kenya is also more advanced in the level of training that is provided to officers, according to Robbins, who visited the Kenya Police College and discussed the potential for future training there.
Though nothing is planned, Robbins hopes to join future missions to the area.