New forensics techniques, a special crime academy and more bobbies on the beat are just some of the measures being proposed to overhaul Bahrain's police service. ROBERT SMITH reports...
BAHRAIN'S police force is on the verge of major changes to prevent a repeat of abuses highlighted by a major inquiry into last year's unrest, according to a senior adviser brought in to help reform the service.
One proposal already agreed to in principle is the construction of a hi-tech forensics laboratory to end the culture of confession-based convictions within the next two years, Interior Ministry adviser John Yates told the GDN.
He revealed one of the UK's top forensic scientists, Dr Angela Gallop, had been consulted on the project.
There are also plans to establish a specialist "crime academy" that will train recruits in the latest investigation techniques, in addition to 500 more community police officers - or bobbies on the beat - hitting the streets by the end of the year.
An independent police ombudsman that will investigate police complaints is also expected to be in place within a year.
However, Mr Yates called on the public to remain patient - saying such developments can't happen overnight.
"I think there is an unrealistic expectation that you can create these bodies overnight, but these require the right people to be identified, the right people to be trained and it does take time," said the former Assistant Commissioner at the London Metropolitan Police Service.
"These are specialist skills."
Mr Yates said he had been specifically brought in to help revamp investigation procedures in Bahrain, particularly "wholesale reform" at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID).
"Specifically I'm looking at reform of the CID, the wholesale reform of the CID to put it in the modern investigative arena," he revealed.
"One recommendation is to build a new forensic laboratory to move us from an unscientific, slightly interview or questioning-based approach into a scientific approach where scenes are 'freezed' properly, all material recovered and then interpreted in a way that is irrefutable.
"It's a move away from a confession-based approach to a more scientific approach."
He said the Interior Ministry had already agreed in principle to the new forensics lab, which he said could be up and running within 18 months to two years - and would be a "centre of excellence for the Middle East".
"I'm really delighted that the ministry has agreed in principle to build a new forensic laboratory - and that's very symbolic," said Mr Yates.
"They are going to invest in that and the vision is that they become a sort of centre of excellence for the Middle East around forensic science.
"That's in the early stages, but we have reports and are meeting the director of works to take that forward.
"You can't build a new lab overnight, but it is absolutely really encouraging that this is the way they want to go and they want to invest in it."
He said Bahrain already had a forensics lab, but it needed to be brought up to date - adding that some training and "Band Aid" work was already underway on the current processes.
"Forensic science is so important in the sense that it gives you that independent, irrefutable proof that A happened or B happened - as opposed to sometimes someone's interpretation," explained Mr Yates.
"And of course DNA, which is only relatively recent - the last 15 or 20 years, but in the last three or four years it's remarkable how it's advanced.
"One of the people advising us is probably one of the world's leading experts in it and has handled some of the most difficult cases in the UK, the Stephen Lawrence case for example, Dr Angela Gallop."
Meanwhile, he said a "crime academy" could be formed to train officers in investigation techniques that have yet to be adopted in Bahrain.
"The vision of the chief (of Public Security) and one I support is a sort of crime academy within the Royal Police Academy - nothing too huge, crime is low here," he said.
"But you have got to train people: a senior investigator, deputy senior investigator and all the way down to people who know how to retrieve and analyse CCTV.
"It's relatively new as a technique, but again CCTV is everywhere and it does provide the ability to track back to see where exactly cars have come from.
"I spent a long time around serious crime in the UK and CCTV is utterly fantastic - particularly with serious crime.
"The small crime academy would really advance all the CID disciplines that are second nature in places like the UK, which people could do with being brought up to speed with here.
"They (the police) do a lot of good work, don't get me wrong, but they just need that extra bit of guidance and some support."
Mr Yates, who is also advising Bahrain's Interior Ministry on internal affairs and the formation of an independent police complaints body, added the will to change was there.
"We are making progress," he said. "Decisions are being reached."
Restoring confidence in the police is a key factor in driving forward advances in the force which is why the ministry now hopes to train and deploy 500 community police officers by the end of the year.
Mr Yates said they would be representative of the areas they patrolled and would play a key role in changing the face of the security services in the community.
"The vision of the unarmed bobby walking down the street, talking to shopkeepers, picking up intelligence, information, offering reassurance and being very visible - that will hopefully make a big difference, but that does take time," he added.
When asked if 500 officers were enough, Mr Yates described it as a "great start" and said the scheme could be expanded if successful.
"Five hundred is a lot of people," he said.
"It is a crucial part of rebuilding trust and helping communities to come forward when they see a representative of policing who is not dressed in riot gear.
"That's part of the problem, it (riot equipment) is such a barrier and people will just think that policing is about protests - but it's so much more than that."
He also hoped a new police ombudsman, which he expected to be in place in a year, would reassure the public and give people confidence that complaints against the police would be properly investigated.
"I would certainly hope within a year it would be fully up and running, fully functioning - hopefully earlier," he added.