The recent tragic events in Lebanon, France, Nigeria and elsewhere continue to highlight the need for effective policing. But citizens of every nation also share an interest in ensuring that police observe the rule of law and honor civil liberties even as they combat terrorism.

Police officers from different nations learn the skills they need to achieve all those goals at International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEA).

The U.S. government established the first ILEA in Budapest, Hungary, in 1995 to help Central and Eastern European countries emerging from communism uphold the rule of law even as they combated organized criminal groups. Former Budapest ILEA head Miles Burden recalls that many newly appointed police chiefs in those countries “were democratically minded” but had little experience in policing techniques as practiced in democracies.

Gaining an edge

Today, in addition to the original Budapest facility, ILEAs in Botswana,Thailand, El Salvador, and Roswell, New Mexico, in the U.S. have trained over 55,000 law enforcement officers from more than 85 countries.

Using forensics and other investigative techniques, students learn to find evidence in the aftermath of an explosion. (FBI)

Each ILEA course includes 35 to 50 officers from three to 13 nations. Over a week or two weeks, instructors from 16 U.S. agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), plus instructors from other participating nations, cover general policing techniques and offer instruction on specialized topics such as:

  • Money laundering.
  • Wildlife trafficking.
  • Drug enforcement.
  • Detecting and investigating financial crime, including counterfeiting.
  • Human trafficking.
  • Cybercrime.

While the core ILEA curriculum draws on training programs for American police officers, ILEA instruction is not about implementing U.S. practices in other nations. It is about sharing knowledge and techniques that can help countries with different criminal justice systems.

The U.S. Secret Service teaches about counterfeiting, while other federal law enforcement agencies offer instruction on topics ranging from public corruption to counterterrorism. (FBI)

“The American law enforcement professionals are not conducting a marketing activity here,” says Police Colonel István Farkas, who oversees the Hungarian staff at ILEA Budapest. “What they do is transfer true knowledge.”

Formal instruction is only part of the ILEA experience. Also crucial is how students learn from each other by exchanging best practices and ideas. “The biggest point of the whole ILEA is networking — getting to know these people,” one recent participant says.

ILEA linguists can interpret up to four languages simultaneously during class sessions. (FBI)

The networking opportunities at an ILEA are extensive, and the friendships among colleagues from different nations can last a lifetime. “Our classrooms are like a mini–United Nations,” says John Terpinas, head of ILEA Budapest. “We help participants become better police officers, better prosecutors and better judges by giving them an opportunity to see how others tackle global challenges.”

Relationships built in ILEA classrooms are one key to combating international crime. As one ILEA graduate says, “The criminals don’t stop at our borders, so we shouldn’t stop there either.”

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh agrees: “No country by itself, no matter how strong it may be, can face all of this crime alone and hope to succeed.”

Collecting evidence at an explosion site in Abuja, Nigeria. (© AP Images)