Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels returned home last week after spending two weeks working with the government of Tajikistan and the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, the country’s capital.
Nowels said there are plans to send sheriff’s deputies back to Tajikistan by summer to help train the country’s elite police force in modern police roles, such as active shooter scenarios and drone operations.
The training is funded through a subdivision of the Department of Justice known as the International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program, which sends U.S. law enforcement to help train foreign police and military units in modern tactics and strategies.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office participated in the program in Bangladesh in January 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic largely halted those trips. Two Sheriff’s Office employees attended that training.
The training plays a larger role in the United States’ global strategy to prevent terrorism and human rights abuses by building partnerships with other foreign governments, Nowels said.
“They share 1,300 miles of border with Afghanistan,” Nowels said of Tajikistan. “They are on the front lines of fighting groups like ISIS and ISIS-K, things like that, and their governments are very interested in preventing ISIS from spreading and having influence not only in their country and also around the word, and they have almost no resources.”
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, is the Islamic militant organization that previously took control of large parts of Iraq and Syria. ISIS-K is the radical affiliate group of the Islamic State active in Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia.
The U.S. government has the resources that Tajikistan does not have, Nowels said. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office serves as a “small cog” in this effort to share resources and strengthen partnerships between the United States and its allies, he said.
The United States has provided $1.8 billion in development and security assistance to support Tajikistan’s security, civic life and education, according to the U.S. Embassy. The US is the single largest contributor to the country’s development, the embassy said last year.
Spokane County sheriff’s deputies would work primarily with OMON, a special police force of Soviet origin that provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe. Other former Soviet republics also have OMON police units.
Tajikistan, a former member republic of the Soviet Union, is located in a mountainous region of Central Asia.
In addition to Afghanistan, the country borders China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The country’s 10 million people come from a wide range of ethnicities, but are predominantly Muslim when it comes to religion.
Nowels, who was accompanied by Spokane Valley Police Chief Mike Ellis and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Director of Education Tony Anderman, visited the country during Ramadan.
“I have a completely different perspective on what Ramadan is and, frankly, what mainstream Muslim culture and faith is,” Nowels said.
That perspective is essential to providing “community-oriented policing,” Nowels said.
The term is defined by the Ministry of Justice as a strategy for developing relationships within a given society.
“It’s about engaging socially in our community and gaining trust,” Anderman said. “It doesn’t matter what culture you’re in.”
Having deputies who are fluent in different cultures, especially Muslim cultures, would benefit deputies who want to serve the county’s increasingly diverse population, Nowels said.
“We have a growing Muslim population,” he said. “I think it’s becoming more and more important as we try to become better connected to our communities and especially, perhaps, to some of our minority communities that we do what we can to try to understand their culture. “
A final decision to send Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies to Tajikistan this year has not been made, sheriff’s office spokesman Cpl. Mark Gregory said.