The LAPD trains foreign police. Does that enable human rights violations?

Eight police officers standing at attention in full uniform, including white gloves
New officers graduate last fall from the LAPD’s academy. The department also conducts training for or alongside some foreign law enforcement agencies accused of human rights abuses, including Israeli security forces.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

On graduation day at the LAPD’s academy last summer, they marched with the other recruits, lined up for inspection, and even walked onstage to pose for pictures with then-Chief Michel Moore, like the rest of the class.

And yet, something was off.

Their look, for starters. While all of the other rookie officers were bare-faced, the five men sported neatly trimmed beards. Their shoes were brown leather, not black. And instead of the traditional LAPD blue, they wore crisp teal dress uniforms with red epaulets — identifying them as belonging to the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Interior.

Their presence at the academy’s graduation stirred new questions about the appropriateness of the Los Angeles Police Department’s close relationships with overseas security services, particularly those from countries accused of human rights violations.


While supporters of training Emirati officers at the academy argue that it provides a valuable cultural exchange for all involved, human rights groups have denounced the Persian Gulf nation’s government for its history of quashing dissent and denying the rights of gay and transgender people.

Over the decades, LAPD officials have met with representatives from numerous countries, including Russia and Qatar, who sought out the department because they wanted to learn about how it handles large-scale protests or complex criminal investigations.

Top brass from the LAPD have also been visiting law enforcement agencies overseas for decades. But concerns about such exchanges have grown since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last fall. Critics of Israel’s military assaults on the Gaza Strip and its crackdown in the occupied West Bank point out that the LAPD has sent personnel to study and train with Israeli security forces accused of state-sanctioned violence against civilians in the two Palestinian territories.

The Police Department’s ongoing relationship with Israeli forces — based on what officials have said is a shared goal of fighting extremism inside their borders — has come under scrutiny before, along with other international training efforts. The agency’s dealings with Israeli forces date back to at least the early 1980s, but ramped up after the 9/11 attacks as the LAPD sought to boost its counter-terrorism training.

In 2002, the Washington advocacy group Jewish Institute for National Security of America sponsored an LAPD delegation’s weeklong trip to Israel, during which department officials visited police and military outposts and studied Israel’s border patrol operations in the Galilee region and the occupied West Bank.

Around the same time, the department began sending bomb squad technicians to learn from their counterparts in Israel; at least one trip was paid for by an $18,000 donation from the Los Angeles Police Foundation, a nonprofit independent fundraising group.


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In the years since, high-ranking officials from L.A. and Israel have routinely traded delegations. But critics say that in light of the polarizing conflict in Gaza, the LAPD’s ongoing ties to Israeli forces threaten the department’s image of impartiality.

Akhil Gopal, a member of the police abolitionist group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, said such trips are problematic for a number of reasons. LAPD officials receive instruction on tactics rooted in flawed theories of radicalization that unfairly criminalize Muslims, Gopal said. He argued that such training has helped shape harmful LAPD programs that have targeted Black and brown Angelenos.

In some cases, he said, public records have shown that the department acquired surveillance technology developed by firms with ties to overseas intelligence agencies.

“The LAPD is exchanging tactics, learning from the experience of Israel and essentially being the colonial force in a colonial situation,” said Gopal.

In January, a coalition of advocacy groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the Los Angeles Police Commission to conduct “a thorough investigation into reports suggesting that LAPD officers may have undergone training programs in Israel.”

“While we acknowledge the importance of international collaboration and the exchange of knowledge between law enforcement agencies, it is crucial to ensure that such engagements align with principles of human rights, justice, and accountability,” the groups said in a letter.


Elsewhere in the Middle East, the LAPD has its partnership with the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, a tiny oil-rich nation bordering Saudi Arabia. Although it has a reputation for glittering skyscrapers and safe streets, a 2022 report from the United Nations Committee against Torture, which looked at the country’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen, “expressed concerns over allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the State party’s regular armed forces, state security agencies, and related non-state armed groups.”

The cadre of Emirati officers who graduated from the LAPD’s academy last year were part of a fledgling exchange program sponsored by the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, or IACP, and touted as a way to promote better understanding by sending officers from the U.S. and Canada to train in the UAE and vice versa.

But the department had formalized its relationship with UAE law enforcement in 2015, with a delegation from Abu Dhabi visiting L.A. a few months after the emirate hosted several high-ranking LAPD officials.

According to emails obtained through an open records request, the IACP had assured officials in Los Angeles that the UAE would incur all costs associated with the Emirate delegation’s trip. The officers involved had all studied at colleges in the U.S., Australia or the UAE and had been cleared by the UAE’s Interior Ministry — although records of its investigations into their backgrounds were not turned over to the LAPD.

A delay in securing the officers’ visas to enter the U.S. postponed their start date by a month. But in early March 2023, the officers boarded an Emirates flight to Los Angeles, and within days of arriving they were attending an orientation for LAPD recruits.


In an interview with The Times, Vince Hawkes, the IACP’s director of global policing, said exchange programs are focused on providing technical assistance and training at a time when agencies like the LAPD increasingly find themselves facing threats of crimes that transcend borders. These exchanges, he said, are valuable “not only from a tactical perspective, but [provide] experience dealing with multiple cultures.”

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Most officers could benefit from a greater cultural awareness by working overseas, Hawkes said, calling such a perspective a “huge advantage” for a police force in a diverse city like Los Angeles.

“What do we do at prayer time — how do we manage that at the police academy? How do we handle Ramadan, when people are fasting?” he said. “Not only do we have that learning with the training programs in different countries, but also one of the greatest positive components is that culture piece.”

The Police Department refused to make the officials involved in the training available to The Times. In response to an inquiry from the paper, the LAPD confirmed that the foreign officers had gone through the department’s basic academy training course, completing 833 of the 912 hours of standard training that recruits go through before graduating.

The state-mandated courses cover “law, academics, report writing, human relations, physical training, arrest and control, law enforcement tactics, and defensive tactics,” but the Emirati officers were not certified under the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

“The exchange program is designed to expose police officers from the UAE to methods of policing the United States,” the LAPD said in a statement. “Additionally, the Los Angeles Police Department strives to strengthen our law enforcement partnerships and be a positive influence within the international community.”


Collaboration between law enforcement agencies from different countries is nothing new, experts say. Departments are known to swap intelligence, coordinate joint patrols along international borders, and occasionally team up on investigations into sprawling criminal networks that traffic in arms, drugs, sex and labor around the world.

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During the Cold War, the U.S. government sent hundreds of police advisors — including some from the LAPD — to more than 40 countries in an effort to thwart the spread of communism and teach “humane” practices, said police historian Max Felker-Kantor.

But the federal agency responsible for these programs was shuttered in the 1970s, when congressional hearings uncovered torture and other abuses committed by the foreign officers who had received U.S. training.

As the scandal faded from memory, then-Chief Daryl Gates became obsessed with asserting the department as a law enforcement leader on the world stage, Felker-Kantor said. Gates’ efforts at diplomacy among police agencies helped create a lasting perception that the LAPD is worthy of emulation, the historian said, with major departments abroad and domestically often following in the footsteps of what he called “L.A.’s finest.”

After Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and captured 52 Americans, Gates boasted that he’d “send over our SWAT teams and we’ll get them out.” By then, he was already cozying up to foreign agencies, Felker-Kantor said, pointing to letters between Gates and Israeli security forces who sought to arrange a tour of LAPD facilities.

The department had been sending trainers overseas under Gates’ predecessor to countries in crisis like the Dominican Republic, which erupted into civil war in the mid-1960s following the brutal reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo. The LAPD’s advisors took “riot control manuals and training and things like that” to the country, according to Felker-Kantor.


The U.S. has trained police forces around the world, including in Haiti and Hong Kong, whose law enforcement agencies both went on to use tear gas and other aggressive tactics against protesters in recent years, according to Ben Kenzer, a political scientist in Ohio.

With that sort of training, he said, “ we’re not really creating an effective police force that is representing the people — we’re creating an effective police force that is effective at repressing dissent.”

Considering the dizzying pace of technological change, police departments feel pressure to “learn from one another on policing issues that are affecting us globally,” said Scott Bradbury, a Toronto police detective sergeant who was part of the first IACP cohort to the UAE.

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But “the true value of the exchange program is the collaboration of the involved people,” he said, adding that he’d received an invaluable education in cultural awareness by training alongside officers from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Nigeria.

Another expert, Johns Hopkins University professor Stuart Schrader, said that foreign police training has continued despite periods of intense public scrutiny of the practice.

“In the past, it was kind of a win-win, and just a PR benefit. And now maybe that assumption cannot be maintained that easily,” said Schrader, author of a book on how international exchange programs have helped project U.S. power overseas — while at the same time shaping policing on American streets.


Some cities have reconsidered such partnerships in recent years, notably Durham, N.C., which in 2018 passed a resolution barring its Police Department from taking part in exchanges where officers receive “military-style training.” And yet, Schrader said, even many symbolic votes in other cities to denounce Israel’s actions in the latest conflict have been soundly rejected “given the really tense political climate.”

“On some, level the idea that the U.S. has something to teach other countries about how to do law enforcement well is a bit laughable at this point, given what we know about the levels of police violence and human rights abuses that have occurred in this country,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m an isolationist. … if there’s a way to look at other best practices, I think that that’s something the U.S. can learn from.”