J… and General Al Radhi and General Nagi, in one of our endless and obviously pointless police reform strategy sessions
I wrote this while a member of a Police Reform mission in Sanaa in 2012. My team leader asked me to brainstorm with the Ministry of Interior’s Communication Department to see what could be done in terms of reform there. In contrast to the rest of the police, this department’s members were very reform-minded (as many socialist ex-South Yemenis officials are) and we had a fascinating exchange. After following up in subsequent meetings, I penned down my recommendations for a MoI comms strategy, in which producing a TV series played a central part. With the currently unfolding events in Yemen I feel free to share these recommendations with you.
I had picked up the idea of creating a TV series for the police in Kabul. The ‘Separ’ police series made by Awaz – to distill new policing values in the minds of the public and to create new role models for the police – was very popular in Afghanistan. (See its FB page here). I had met Yemeni rappers in Sanaa and was starting to meet actors and other artists, and I could so easily imagine what kind of series this should be, that I decided to write out the first season.
I still think this kind of activity, though it may seem frivolous to many, would help reform in Yemen much more than the pouring of billions of dollars, arms, equipment and training in the usual top-down manner followed by the international community. The more I live, travel and learn, the stronger I believe in cultural action vis-a-vis ‘international intervention’ in what are disparagingly called ‘failed’ or ‘failing’ states. I hope to still be involved in making such a TV series one day! But maybe it will be in Somalia instead.
Outline for the first season of Crime Scene Yemen
1st episode: Introduction to the character, who is trying to be a good policeman and work for the national interest; but he also has some weak sides (like a character prone to doubt) and/or issues in his personal life (like poverty/a large chaotic family etc) which make him a ‘flesh and blood’ hero with which the majority of Yemenis can identify. He works in one of the most modern/reform-minded police stations of Sana’a, which despite being one of the best is still not very good. His line-manager (of the criminal investigations department) is a reform-minded professional. The cast has no accents or diverse accents, avoiding any regional stereotypes.
The hero has to solve a murder case in a poor, popular neighborhood of Sana’a, but is confronted with the inefficiency of the criminal evidence investigation team (the contrary of CSI).When he continues his research through qat chews, he finds there may be a political motivation behind the crime. Issue: lack of professional attitude among the police, interference of politics.
2nd episode: Continuing the investigation, the hero finds there is an attempt to cover-up the murder in which the director of his station is involved. He can do little and promises the victim’s family that he will not forget the case and will attempt to solve it a later date. He decides to investigate his station chief with the hope of finding damning evidence, but without anybody noticing. Issue: challenging authority, right or wrong?
3rd episode: The hero tackles an Al-Qaeda criminal who is like a Kung-Fu action movie warrior. Will he respect his ‘human rights’ or simply kill him? His initial refusal to kill him gains him the scorn of his colleagues but at the end he must kill the criminal in legitimate self-defense anyhow. Issue: safeguarding the rights of the citizens vis-à-vis the police
4th episode: Breaking up a prostitution ring for foreign oil workers involving Chinese and/or African ‘slaves’. The hero finds evidence of his police station’s boss involvement but fails to record it/collect it. Issue: importance of evidence.
5th episode: The hero is targeted in a set-up where he’s offered a large bribe by the victim of a moral crime. He doubts because he badly needs the money but finally refuses, and then finds out that it was a set-up orchestrated by his boss. He now knows that the hostility between him and his boss is mutual and tries to change police stations. But his line-manager needs him and promises to keep supporting him. Issue: the temptation of bribes.
6th episode: A peaceful protest movement (secessionists or students) . Our hero is put in charge of organizing security. At one point he receives the order to shoot from the police station boss but refuses to do so. Is he allowed to disobey orders? He is fired from the police station despite the attempts of his line manager to keep him. Issue: the importance of the police’s moral code, even when ordered otherwise
7th episode: Our fired hero receives advice to see a distant family member in the police to reinstate him. But during the initial meeting he dislikes this person’s corrupt ways and he decides not to ask for the favor. Only his wife supports him in this, the rest of the family is outraged. Then he manages to participate in a seminar organized by the reform-minded group in the MoI. During the seminar he approaches a high-ranked official (like Brig –Gen) and tells him of his woes. The Brig-Gen promises to help him and remove the corrupt boss and make the hero’s line-manager boss instead. Issue: using your connections and other means to access power.
8th episode: The police station boss mobilizes the friends he has put on the payroll and a corrupt high-placed official (Saleh regime type) to resist his removal. Initially he is successful but then the Brig-Gen sends in a loyal police force. It ends in a violent shoot-out in which the corrupt boss is killed and his minions fired. The hero’s line manager becomes the new boss and our hero is promoted to line-manager (criminal investigations). He solves the case of episode 2. Issue: how to overcome the resistance to reform
9th episode: A powerful businessman living in the police district attempts to cozy up to the new police boss, offering him lavish dinners and favors (like helping him maintain law and order in the district with his private gunmen). The new police boss is charmed by the man. Will the police boss risk alienating a powerful local supporter? Especially when an offer to equip the station with new communications gear is made? The police boss accepts the offer. Issue: conflict of interest. Where does it start?
10th episode: Our hero finds out the powerful local businessman is involved in embezzling public funds (through tenders) and smuggling. When he reports this on the new communications gear the businessman’s minions, who are listening in, decide to eliminate him. Our hero is ambushed and seriously wounded. His boss, who first preferred to turn a blind eye to the businessman’s practices, rushes in to rescue our hero and returns the communications equipment after having hacked it so he can listen in himself. Issue: different kinds of crime, the personal vs the public interest.
11th episode: Our wounded hero is unable to participate in field actions but spends some afternoons while he is rehabilitating in the station with the communications people. There they find out that the businessman, whose armed personal guard is now using the comms equipment, is linked to very powerful people of the old regime. Together they are embezzling public funds and undermining the new regime by creating security disturbances. Our hero and his boss decide to mount a surveillance operation to collect evidence and catch the criminals red-handed. Emphasis on professional policing.
12th and last episode of the first season: The district’s Criminal Investigations team, led by our hero, discover a plot to blow up a high-value target by Al Qaeda organized by the businessman and his political allies, but are ordered to leave the case to the security services, who let the terrorist attack happen. It is the trigger for a planned coup of anti-reform old regime types. Our hero manages to contact the president in time – but will the coup succeed? Cliffhanger end. Issue: crime, politics and terrorism: can this lethal combination be overcome, and if so how?.
Season 2: the state has disintegrated, our hero and his family remain in Sanaa, where he starts organizing a community police in their district. He manages to set up a functioning police force with local support, fighting off all kinds of enemies, from rebels to fundamentalists to drug lords and a misguided foreign intervention force.