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Kerik: U.S., Iraqi police working hard

Bernard Kerik
Bernard Kerik

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik has been working with Coalition Provisional Authority officials in Iraq to rebuild the country's police force.

He discussed the efforts to establish peace and security in Iraq on Tuesday with CNN's Leon Harris.

CNN: Give us a status report. How are things shaping up so far?

KERIK: I think for the most part, things are moving right along rather quickly, and we're doing a lot better than I would have anticipated, I think, 10 weeks ago.

I oversee the entire Ministry of Interior. That's not only the police, but customs, borders and immigrations. I have identified the people that will take over now, the Baghdad police, the general -- the general operations, identified the people that will take over borders and customs.

We're working toward standing up as many police officers as possible throughout the country.

I just got in the numbers last Saturday for overall -- for the country. We're up to about 33,000 police officers that we have returned. We're looking for an in-state number of about 65,000. Here in Baghdad, we have back over 5,000 cops, and they're throughout on a daily basis working, on the quality of life and criminal activity in Baghdad.

As you know, the coalition services are -- forces are working around the country as the primary peacekeeping force, but the Baghdad and the Iraqi police are out. They're out in full force right now, working as hard as possible to make the cities and the country safer.

CNN: Well, how will people's minds there be changed by what you're doing? Because, you know, we're getting reports from our own reporters, our eyes and ears who are out there, and they continually tell us that people there say that they still have concerns for their safety. They're still upset about things like not having, you know, consistent water and electricity service, but they always mention security as well. They still believe there a crime problem there and that they are not safe.

KERIK: Well, I think a lot of it, Leon, is perception. And I just held a press conference with two of the generals from Baghdad, and we talked about that, and sometimes I have to remind people, a lot of it is perception. If you go back to the early days of New York City in 1994 when crime rates were at some of its highest, from '94 to '97 we dropped crime about 30 percent. But in 1997, if you asked someone in the streets of New York City, do you feel safer, they would say no. Crime was down 30 percent. A lot of it is perception.

The police officers are working extremely hard. I announced today the removal of a gang, a criminal activity gang, that was working kidnappings. We rescued two people that were being held for ransom, a third boy. Took down nine people. These kidnapping groups have been terrorizing Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. We've taken about four of those out in the last three or four weeks. We're just -- you know, the cops are working extremely hard, and I think it's going to be a while before people in the streets see it, physically see it and feel it.

CNN: Will people in the streets feel it more quickly if there was a cop on every corner, or if there was Saddam Hussein's head on a platter right about now?

KERIK: Well, I wouldn't mind Saddam's head on a platter, really, but, you know, would they feel it if a cop was on every corner? Perhaps. And it's no different than the United States. Sometimes people want cop on those corners. Would they do well on those corners? Not necessarily.

We have to place the cops where they're needed. We have to drive our criminal activity out by putting the cops where they're needed. Sometimes that means that people won't see the cops. And it's just a matter of fitting them in and putting them where they're really needed, and that's what we're doing for the time being.

CNN: The one thing I've been wondering about all along, commissioner, is I know you're working hard to get Iraqi people to do their own policing there, getting Iraqi -- maybe Iraqi former police officers to come back and take over their jobs, but how do you know you can trust them? We're seeing some of these sneak attacks that have been waged against the military, U.S. military forces there around the countryside. Are you positive that whoever it is you're hiring here on this Iraqi police force is going to be people that you can actually trust?

KERIK: Well, Leon, what people should realize is that there was probably about 60,000 Iraqi police officers. We have only brought back, right now, about 33,000. To give you an example in Baghdad, we had about 17,000. Now we have just over 5,000, but we rehired initially 9,000. A lot of them have been terminated, removed. I removed the complete upper echelon powers in the customs, borders, immigration and police service, the top two and three levels. They were all Baath Party members. These were people that couldn't have obtained those positions unless they were senior members in the Baath Party. They've all been removed. And as we find corruption, as we hear negative reports or conduct an investigation and find criminal activity or corruption, those people are removed. So it's going to take a little time to sift out all the problem but it's an ongoing process. It is not perfect, but it's something we're fully aware are and we're addressing it.

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