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Haiti pushes forward with new program to boost police department overwhelmed by gangs

An armored police car patrols the streets in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. A court in Kenya on Friday blocked the deployment of a U.N.-backed police force to help fight gangs in the troubled Caribbean country. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Prime Minister Ariel Henry met for the first time Tuesday with officials from various countries who are part of an international steering committee aimed at boosting the country’s beleaguered police department as it awaits the potential deployment of a foreign armed force to help it fight gangs, according to Haiti's government.

The committee responsible for overseeing the program includes officials from the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Nations and the European Union, according to the office of Haiti’s prime minister.

The office did not provide further details, except to say the program is for the operational and institutional reinforcement of Haiti’s National Police.

A government official who was not authorized to speak to the media told The Associated Press the program aims to generate more money for an existing basket fund created to help Haiti’s National Police. The official said he didn’t know how much additional money, if any, each country pledged or what the money would be used for specifically.

The meeting comes just days after a court in Kenya ruled that deploying police officers to Haiti as part of a U.N.-backed mission approved last year is unconstitutional.

Haiti’s police department has long been overwhelmed by violent gangs estimated to control up to 80% of the capital of Port-au-Prince, with only some 10,000 officers on duty at a time in a country of more than 11 million people.

Last year, gangs attacked more than 45 police stations across Haiti, forcing police to abandon some of them. Dozens of officers also were reported killed, according to the U.N.

While the police budget for the current fiscal year was increased by 13%, a recent U.N. report found that “the appropriation falls short of needs” and noted that donor funding has provided basic items such as vehicles and personal protective equipment.

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Associated Press reporter Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.