- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Only days after the release of an independent report in Bahrain indicating that security forces there used excessive force during the government’s recent crackdown on protesters, Bahraini officials have announced that they will be hiring John Timoney, a U.S. "supercop," to train the island kingdom’s police force. The Ministy of Interior notes that Timoney succeeded in "reducing crime and implementing proper practices for the use of force" during his 7 years as police chief in Miami. Timoney, who also served as police commissioner in Philadelphia, will report directly to Bahrain’s interior minister. The government is touting the decision as an example of its commitment to reform and reconciliation.
So, is Timoney’s record as sterling as the Bahraini government suggests? The police chief has certainly won plaudits for his work. In a 2002 profile, the Los Angeles Times noted that Timoney had "made a career of cleaning up police messes" and become a "celebrity" in Philadelphia for reducing property crime and managing to
keep "the peace with a minimum of arrests and street violence when protests threatened the Republican National Convention in 2000." A New Yorker profile eight years later
called Timoney "one of the most progressive and effective police chiefs in the country," noting that no Miami cops fired a shot in the first 20 months after he assumed control of the police department, which had a reputation for shooting civilians.
But Timoney has also endured his fair share of criticism, particularly surrounding his handling of protests — Bahrain’s big problem, after all — at the 2000 RNC convention in Philadelphia (preceded by a brutal police beating) and the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami. The American Civil Liberties Union accused Philadelphia police of infiltrating political activist groups in 2000 and Miami police of
using "excessive force to intimidate and unlawfully arrest innocent bystanders and protesters who were exercising their free speech rights" in 2003. During the free trade summit, Jeremy Scahill, reporting for Democracy Now!, claimed that Timoney was spinning "tales of ‘hard-core anarchists rampaging through the streets of Miami" even as riot police backed by armored personnel carriers and helicopters fired rubber bullets and chemicals "
indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed protesters."
Timoney, who’s now working in the private sector, doesn’t seem to have commented much on the Arab Spring. But he did discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests recently with CNN’s Piers Morgan. Here’s what he said about the movement:
I think there’s a consensus that it has to do with Wall Street greed and the pains that the country’s been going through for the last two years vis-a-vis the economy.
However, as this has dragged on, not just in New York City but in Oakland and Philadelphia and others where other elements have joined the protests, not with the best of intentions, with agendas, there have been documented cases of criminal activity …
Now there’s — I think a pretty decent amount of public antipathy towards the protests right now because it seems like that they’ve gone beyond reasonable and once it starts getting into the area of public health but also criminal activity, there’s a problem.
Timoney, it turns out, may not be the only controversial "supercop" helping Bahrain with its police training. This afternoon, the Telegraph reported that Bahrain is also hiring John Yates, the Metropolitan Police official who resigned in July over criticism about his handling of the News of the World phone hacking scandal.