Joseph Jacquet is one of six Haitian-born NYPD officers on a three-month rotation in Port-au-Prince to train and mentor Haiti’s police officers in the wake of last year’s devastating earthquake. It’s a hands on assignment and on the day we visited Jacquet was assisting in questioning a 14-year old Haitian teen accused of stealing scrap metal.
“The people on the street feel comfortable seeing us,” says Officer Jacquet. “They cooperate with us.”
The Haitian police force needs help, more than ever. We visited what was once one of the largest police stations in Port-au-Prince. Now, officers work out of the same tents distributed by aid groups and police cars sit idle amidst the ever-present rubble.
The earthquake did more than just destroy the police stations, it also damaged the country’s prisons, allowing thousands of convicted criminals to escape, complicating law enforcement efforts even more.
“In Port-au-Prince alone, they had over 4300 people escape and countrywide, about 6000,” says NYPD Sgt. Herve Guiteau. “Because a good portion were hardened criminals, yes, they’ve re-started in doing what they were doing before.”
In many cases, that includes serious crimes, like kidnapping. Last July, Augustin Maisonnet, a private security guard, was driving home alone at night when he was carjacked, kidnapped and held for ransom in the rubble of a building destroyed by the earthquake.
“There were four guys,” says Maisonnet. “They just put a gun on my head and they said if my family doesn’t bring 20,000 dollars, probably I will be killed.”
Though he managed to escape after just one night, kidnapping for ransom is a major problem in cities like Port-au-Prince.
Says NYPD detective Cary Juste, “Within the last two weeks, we’ve had five cases of kidnapping.”
Assisting the anti-kidnapping unit is one area where these officers can help the most, but the reality is they’ll pitch in wherever they’re needed.
They do it not just because it’s their job, but also because Haiti is their country.
Says NYPD Detective Juste, “This is home. When it’s home, you do as much as you can for home.”