Alumni Profile • Ken DeKleine '87
"Sometimes somebody has to do something...and sometimes that somebody is me."
That's become the motto of Holland, Mich., police officer Ken DeKleine '87. It's what he thought when he heard about an opportunity to work as an International Police Liaison Officer (IPLO) in Iraq .
"Sometimes, now, I regret having thought that," he laughed.
Like on days when it's 118 degrees in the shade and the sand flies are biting and Internet service is down. Or when mortar rounds explode on the forward operating base in Tikrit where he lives with a couple of thousand coalition troops.
And then there are the difficulties of his job. IPLOs work for a private security company contracted by the U.S. State Department. As senior team chief for Salah Ad Din province, DeKleine supervises 33 other IPLOs who are training new Iraqi police officers across the province. He also attempts to advise and mentor the new provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Hamad.
"There are commonalities between us," DeKleine said, like the fact that both were raised on farms and spent time in the military.
But differences in mind-set between the two men - between their two countries - repeatedly baffle DeKleine. "They do want to make their country more secure," he said, "but their tribal mentality is very difficult to overcome. If a crime occurs within a tribe, it doesn't get reported, but if a crime occurs across two tribes, they consider it a blood debt. Tribes have been killing back and forth for 50 years over a stolen horse."
The tribal mind-set has innumerable ramifications for criminal justice, DeKleine said, from the number of police stations in a given city to the way search warrants are carried out.
Though he often shakes his head, DeKleine is not quick to condemn Iraqi ways. "I'm learning how arrogant we Americans can be," he said. "Sometimes I drop my jaw when I hear how they do things. But then I step back and look at the way we treat drunk drivers. Multiple offenders are still on the road claiming victims. We're not the answer to every aspect of Iraqi justice."
DeKleine thinks it will be at least a generation before Iraqis are able to form a secure democratic society. He draws an analogy from police work back home. "When we arrest a person who is assaulting the rest of a family, that doesn't mean that then everything's going to be fine for that family. They've been steeped in a culture of violence. When the assaulting figure is out of the picture, how will they deal with the power struggle that opens up in the family? Probably fights and assaults will continue. That's what is going on here."
Still, DeKleine has "an earnest hope" that Iraqis will come to "shoulder the great responsibility and self-discipline that freedom requires." Having seen the rich, millennia-old culture of Iraq , he hopes for the day when an ordinary citizen from Holland or Tikrit can travel to the other's city.
After a year in Iraq , Ken DeKleine returns home to his wife, Lori Meulman DeKleine '86, and their two children on Feb. 12. He can tell you how many hours, minutes and seconds until that day.