Houston officers travel thousands of miles to train Ukraine officers in Command and Control, HPD style

Tom Kennedy

It can be said that the elaborate and effective training programs of the Houston Police Department extend 5,982 miles from 1200 Travis and the HPD Police Academy.

That distance by commercial airliner has been taking HPD instructors in Command and Control to the city of Kiev, Ukraine since 2015. Commissioned HPD officers have becoming a key part of a policing conversion experience.


HPD Trains the Trainers


The country – formerly a part of the Soviet Union – has suffered for decades from corrupt policing, a practice now being changed to more of a high-integrity enforcement agency. As European media has reported, the new national policing agency’s cops are calm and polite instead of harassing and corrupt.

“We work for people and try to help them,” one of Ukraine’s national police patrol officers told a television reporter. The officer was echoing the feelings of a number of her newly trained colleagues.

Today, the country is in a full-tilt process of developing a police academy atmosphere aimed at training cadets in the style of – yes! – Houston police officers. New cadets must meet physical standards necessary for rugged training exercises, while also passing strict ethical examinations.

Many officers and administrators from the Ukraine “old school” are gradually being weeded out in a determined yet painstaking process.

HPD personnel began to participate in the training portion of this process and will continue to monitor the “training of the trainers” in the New Year.

One of them, Lt. Randy Upton, provided an update of the effort to HPOU members at the Union’s December general membership meeting. Also present were some Ukraine officers fresh from on-site training sessions at the HPD Academy. They listened to Upton’s words of praise, through an interpreter, although Upton and other HPD trainers believe these officers’ comprehension of English grows by the day.

“Things are going great in Ukraine,” Upton told the Badge & Gun. “We got involved two years ago with programs involving command and control developed by Officer Scott Warren from the Academy. The cadets immediately liked what Houston had in command and control techniques and philosophies.

“Our philosophy is to get in front of a protest, work with the organizer and confer with CID,” Warren explained. “Basically, they liked our philosophy, the things we talk about coordination and planning and pre-planning – the formation and techniques we use.”

Upton and others “train the trainers” who then train cadets throughout the country, which is somewhat larger than the state of Texas, located between eastern Europe and Russia. So far, about 2,000 cadets have graduated to become officers who now patrol Ukrainr cities the HPD way.

Through interpreters in eight-hour classes sometimes six days a week, Upton and others teach or mentor the trainers. The lieutenant pointed out that “we basically try to meet their needs. If they see a weakness in a certain area, we try to get the appropriate trainers in that area.”

In addition to crowd control, there is a demand for training in SWAT and TACT units.

The national leadership in  Ukraine is aiming toward a strong democracy that will enable the country to become part of the European Union. So far the citizenry has responded positively.

News accounts show that many people are starting to believe in the new approach. In former times, too many alleged criminals were turned loose as the old-school corruption enabled the solicitation of bribes or the demand for payments from complainants to pursue investigations.

Upton said that the old force has been or is in the process of being disbanded while this better-trained new group of police gains exposure to such positive techniques as Houston’s community-oriented policing.


100 Percent Buy-in


“One of the fascinating things I discovered is that they are eager to learn to protect the citizens in their cities,” Upton said. “One of the things we observed is that they are exactly like the police officers in America. The tactics they pick up are similar. We have the same common goal – put the bad guy in jail and protect the public.”

There are other key HPD training personnel who have regularly commuted those almost 6,000 air miles to Kiev, the aforementioned Officer Warren and Sgt. Ron Pinkerton, an HPD cadet training sergeant. Both have been leaders in curriculum development for the new officers.

“We’ve trained around 75 crime control instructors,” Warren said. “They’ve gone on to train 500. I’m going over in January to observe – mentor – four classes that the instructors that we have trained are teaching. I will mentor them and make sure they are consistent with the training we gave them.

“I will be back in February to teach a command and control class with the Canadians. These are retired Mounties who have already done some leadership training for the Ukraine and they’re going to supplement it with some command and control.”

Upton, Warren and Pinkerton were extremely upbeat in this ongoing success story.

“We have a 100 percent buy-in,” Warren said. “Other countries have suggested other tactics and they have told them no. They are satisfied with what we use, our methods and philosophies.

“Since they’re national police, they go all around the country. They have totally adopted HPD training for command and control and crowd management in general.

“Our department is definitely top-notch in keeping up with things. We’re teaching the same tactics at the Academy that we share with the Ukraine.”

Ukraine has recently experienced many large-scale riots and demonstrations. Last month two officers suffered broken bones in riot-related incidents.

“This is their protest season,” Warren said. “When it’s cold, they protest. With us it’s just the opposite.”

Warren is a senior police officer with 26 years with HPD, including 12 years with SRG. He said he likely will make at least four trips to the Ukraine this year. “They will be coming here two times,” he said.

Pinkerton explained that he and other HPD personnel involved in the special training program work for a private contractor backed by the U. S. Department of Justice. When he and the others first got involved in 2015, other policing agencies involved were from Canada, the California Highway Patrol and PDs from Reno, Nevada and Dayton, Ohio.

“These agencies came up with the lesson plans – academy-style lesson plans,” he said. “They went over there and trained 100 Ukrainian trainers. My team went over there to evaluate the Ukraine trainers that had been trained by the other American law enforcement.”


‘We went as Texans’


He said former Navy SEAL and retired HPD Officer Chris Nicola and current Narcotics Sgt. Kevin Rivera expressed an interest in the program and became a part of it. “We all went over as part of an evaluation mission,” Pinkerton said.

Others include Officers Travis Boles, Jesse Seay, Austin Huckaby and David Dedo. There also were SWAT Officers Jack Zakharia, Justin Barber, Edward Kwan, Kevin Arntz and retired Officer George Griger.

“Our job was to make sure they followed the American lesson plans sent over there,” Pinkerton explained. “They did. We were very impressed with them.

Interpreters hovered around each trainer, taking great pains to repeat everything that was being said. Pinkerton said he and his HPD colleagues believe there were very few, if any, misunderstandings.

“We went over there not as Americans but also Texans,” he said. “We were polite and we boasted a lot about our agency. By the time we were done they had literally fallen in love with us.”

He had some stories.

Initially, the Texans were quartered in “an old Soviet schoolhouse with windows that wouldn’t open. We bathed in sweat the first few days,” he said, which happened to be in the same kind of August we see in Houston.

Then one day the country’s prime minister appeared and – surprise! – actually requested Sgt. Pinkerton to make a speech before an assembly of hundreds of people in an auditorium. He was not, of course, prepared, but wound up talking about HPD community policing and praising his host, who was known as “the rector” and was known to be an icon from the old corrupt police force. “He was the director of the facility and was sitting on the front row by himself, watching me like a hawk,” Pinkerton recalled.

Afterwards, the rector thanked Pinkerton for the kind words, invited the HPD crew to a “five-star meal” in an air-conditioned room supplied with plenty of vodka.

That wasn’t all.

The rector “told us to get our belongings and took us to the newest building in the old Soviet-style (group of) buildings. We were led to an office with air conditioning.

“Where,” the sergeant asked, “is the guy who normally occupies this office?”

“He’s on vacation,” came the reply.

“When will he be back?”

“When you are finished with the room.”


High Scores & Hugs


Pinkerton, who laughed as he recounted the story, said Ukraine citizens became aware of the job of the HPD officers in Kiev and showed their appreciation. “They knew we were American police officers helping them to rebuild,” he said. “They would hug us and would cry. They treated us like honored guests.”

The HPD crew were even asked to autograph lesson books and the cadets “wanted their picture taken with us. It was great recognition for four weeks of training in July and August of 2015.

After his impromptu speech, Pinkerton said he noticed a civilian woman in the crowd. She had tears in her eyes.

“Do you believe that this will really work?” she asked him.

“Mam, it has to work. We’re going to do our part to make sure it works.”

Then Pinkerton said, “Tears were streaming down her face. That was when the impact of what we were doing over there really hit me.”

The rather strict HPD training advocate and grader said at the end of three weeks he had to create an evaluation system for the participants. “I’m not one who gives good scores haphazardly,” he explained. “Fifteen of the 20 participants earned a perfect score. In my notes to the Department of Justice, I explained why. He told them: “This may seem odd but these are accurate scores. I would welcome any one of these trainers to come to our academy and instruct. What they were doing was off the chart.”

He said he and his colleagues treated the Ukraine law enforcement officers the same way they would want to be treated were the roles reversed. For instance, the teachers and trainers-to-be went partying one night and broke the classroom ice, setting the stage for better down-to-earth interactions in the classroom.

Then, when the Ukrainians came to Houston, Pinkerton and HPD showed them the town and took them sightseeing at NASA, the Battleship Texas and, of course, the Houston Police Academy.  Chief Art Acevedo took them out to dinner.

“After that visit, HPD got a lot more connected to that program,” Sgt. Pinkerton said. “There was no Reno or Dayton PD going back again. California Highway Patrol did go back. We made a lot of headway with Chief Acevedo. He’s totally embraced it.”

The feelings 6,000 miles away appear to be mutual. The new Ukraine police should continue to welcome their Houston policing brothers with open arms throughout 2018.