FUSAGASUGA, Colombia -- Juliana Jolissaint is no more than 5-feet-5 and 123 pounds, but she could easily instill fear in the heart of a criminal. Put a nightstick in her hand and she drops a comrade to the ground in seconds.
“I was very slow,” said Jolissaint, a 21-year-old cadet from Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. “Everything that I have to do [now], I do fast. This is an experience, a great opportunity.”
Since arriving at the Sumapaz academy near Bogotá four months ago, Jolissaint has learned to run everywhere she goes, march in formation, bark out orders and use her nightstick for self-defense. She and her nine companions were carefully selected from a field of 350 Haitian female police recruits for a scholarship to train with women from the Colombian National Police.
Jolissaint intends to return to Haiti in December to help her country’s 19-year-old police force improve through the training she is receiving about everything from taking down criminals to gender equality.
The 10 trainees were chosen by Colombia on the basis of academics, physical acumen, good health and Spanish fluency. Most were university students, and several had studied Spanish in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
“It is essential to share our experience and be present to help Haiti build a good police force,” said Colombian Police Commissioner Gen. José Roberto León, highlighting the areas of organized crime, narco-trafficking and terrorism, where Colombia’s expertise is shared.
Leon added that Colombia hoped Haiti would “avoid the scourge of violence that our country lived through for over 30 years.”
Women now represent just 7 percent of the estimated 10,000 officers in the Haitian National Police. Haiti is hoping that programs like this and others with Chile, Canada and the U.S. will help increase the force to 15,000 officers by the end of 2016, according to an HNP development plan.
The program is funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office to boost the professionalism and increase the number of women in the HNP at a cost of $17,000 per cadet.
The Haitian trainees will participate in 11 months of basic training to include a focus on sexual violence and protecting minors.
While Haiti has the lowest crime rate in the Caribbean, according to Haitian and U.N. officials, the island nation still has an alarming rate of violent crime. Statistics for murder, rape, assault and domestic violence in 2012 were higher than any for the previous five years, according to U.N. data.
Still, Haiti has made progress in reducing kidnapping and increasing drug seizures and detentions. Officials credit close cooperation with the U.N. police and specialized training from the Colombian government in anti-kidnapping and anti-narcotics techniques.
Last year, 169 kidnappings were reported in Haiti, down from the 308 reported in 2008. In drug seizures and detentions, Haiti seized 738 pounds of cocaine and 659 pounds of marijuana last year, while detaining 124 suspected traffickers. The drug seizures represent a nearly eightfold increase over the previous year.
For a country of about 10 million, even a goal of 15,000 police officers would mean just 1.02 officers per 1,000 residents, a rate that’s one-third that of most countries in the world, and half that of the Caribbean average. Haiti also suffers from domestic violence in a traditionally male-dominated society, with a high of 723 reported cases last year. Figures were not available for child abuse.