Officials in Argentina, anxious to improve police operations in their country, have turned to the Los Angeles Police Department to show them the way.
Under a novel program the LAPD hopes to begin this year, as many as 27 captains and higher-ranking officers would take unpaid leave to train the police in Cordoba, Argentina's second largest city, according to Assistant Chief Robert L. Vernon.
Three teams of Los Angeles officers would each remain in Argentina for a week, providing instruction principally in traffic control, anti-terrorism and the use of police computers.
Afterward, a delegation of Argentine police officers will visit Los Angeles for three weeks to learn firsthand how to protect and serve, LAPD-style.
"This kind of thing--tools, not words--is the best way to preserve democracy in a country that has tried so hard to achieve it," declared the Argentine consul in Los Angeles, Jorge Lidio Vinuela.
Vinuela and Los Angeles police administrators are confident that the U.S. State Department will bless the project, as well as pick up the tab for it. Vernon estimated that it will cost about $200,000, most of it for air fare.
Officials at the State Department could not be reached Tuesday to comment on the plan, which Vinuela said he and Vernon hit upon more than a year ago during a Rotary Club lunch.
"The thought was that we could get the best knowledge possible, and maybe we could teach (the LAPD) some things at the same time," Vinuela said.
"For example, we don't really have a drunk-driving problem, (something) that, of course, is of great concern in Los Angeles."
At Vinuela's urging, officials in Buenos Aires asked state police in each of Argentina's 22 provinces whether they want to receiving training from the LAPD. Authorities in the interior province of Cordoba, whose capital city bears the same name, said yes.
In January, their expenses paid by the Argentine government, two ranking Los Angeles police officers flew to Cordoba, a city of 1.5 million that is home to shoe factories, a Renault auto assembly plant and one of the oldest universities in South America.
LAPD Cmdr. Mark A. Kroeker and former Cmdr. Lawrence L. Binkley, now police chief in Long Beach, spent a week helicoptering throughout the province to observe Cordoba's 10,500-member police force in action and to study its needs.
Everywhere they went in Cordoba, Kroeker said, officers had heard of the LAPD; the Argentines had all been avid viewers of the now-defunct television series "SWAT."
Binkley said the Cordoba police impressed him as "big hearts--they sometimes work 24 hours a day; they are a very honorable, dedicated group, but they really need a lot more resources."
Should the training proposal prove a success, Vinuela said, he is hopeful that the LAPD can provide instruction to police officers in other Argentine provinces.
Vernon said LAPD offered similar training to officers in Caracas, Venezuela, about 20 years ago.