First, while soldiers and police both “bear arms,” a police officer’s main goal wielding a weapon is to keep the peace, control the population and apprehend criminals. Professional militaries, on the other hand, vow to defend nations; they use weapons to threaten, intimidate and kill adversaries. Great police forces, the MP commander emphasized, are trained in ways to be less threatening, so they can protect and serve their communities while also apprehending criminals. While some police units certainly have Special Weapons and Tactics units, or SWAT teams, those units require extensive training and are reserved for dire circumstances. Use them too often or incorrectly, and you lose the trust of the citizens that the police are asked to protect and serve.

A cop like me should be a neighbor, not an enemy combatant

Second, there is the matter of uniforms. We were rapidly expanding our recruiting and training of future Iraqi police officers so we could put thousands in the cities quickly, but the interior minister — the Baghdad official charged with growing the nascent police force — couldn’t get us the large number of uniforms we needed for those we were graduating. The minister asked if we would accept camouflage outfits instead of police uniforms for the graduates, and he asked if we would also accept unmarked pickup trucks for service as police cruisers…

The third difference involves accountability. As we began to develop the training package for the police officers — a program that consisted of the expected marksmanship training, arrest procedures, treatment of criminals and the like — the MP commander told me he needed additional time for accountability training. Police officers aren’t like soldiers, he explained. Soldiers work as part of a team, accountable to that team and a chain of command, laws of land warfare and a military justice system. Police work in pairs, sometimes alone, and rogue police officers often cover for one another. If a police officer doesn’t understand their accountability to the law they are sworn to uphold and the citizens they swear to protect and defend, they have the potential to turn into something worse than criminals. We included a course on professional accountability training, and at graduation the rookie officers repeated an oath written for them, to uphold the law.