Only three years ago, Sgt. Waheid Siraach of Metro Transit Police was studying to become a lieutenant.
However, Siraach, 42, had to retire in 2016, after 10 years of decorated service.
The cause: recurring back injuries, including one sustained while pulling a 250-pound suicidal jumper off a highway bridge a few years ago.
“It was my passion and my career,” Siraach said of policing. “I liked helping people, serving. But the department doctor said ‘no, it’s over.’
“I’m fortunate to live in one of the best countries on earth. And I still want to give back to my country.”
Today, Siraach is building a small business that leverages his experience.
The Somali immigrant runs two-year-old TSG International. It’s Siraach and three other full-time employees, and independent contractors as needed, including prosecutors and chiefs. They work as training and assessment consultants, from Minneapolis to Mogadishu. And it’s been a slow build so far.
“This has been a challenge,” Siraach said. “I’m CEO and office manager and chief grant writer.”
And he’s paying himself significantly less than the $100,000 pay package he would make as a police commander.
“I’m working on it,” Siraach quipped.
Siraach immigrated with his parents from war-torn Somalia in 1997. He graduated from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota while working part time in security and other jobs as he strove to become a police officer.
Siraach spent much of 2015 on leave from Metro Transit to join other American officers, lawyers and judges in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. They worked, in part, on the continuing task of transforming the Somali police force from a ragtag arm of the military, with little transparency, discipline or trust of the people, into an independent, credible serve-and-investigate force trusted by the people.
Siraach was empowered by the work but not satisfied as a consultant to a huge nongovernmental organization called Bancroft. It also was dogged by mission and financial controversy, as chronicled by the New York Times.
Siraach, one of the few American consultants who knew the Somali language and culture, started his own business. TSG International has gotten by on a few contracts with U.S. law-enforcement agencies, and one six-figure Somali contract, with a focus on training and assessment.
Siraach is revered among Mogadishu police as a successful Somali-American, an accomplished, college-educated officer who has worked in the trenches of Mogadishu to increase skills and professionalism that also enhances civilian trust.
“They welcomed me as a brother,” Siraach said of Somali police. “That motivates me. They want a better country.
“We are working on a pilot program in one district of Mogadishu. The Somali police force … is still outdated. They are paid little and given minimal education and training. We’re working on community policing. Serving the people. Investigations. It’s getting a little better. We want to expand.”
Siraach published an analysis of the history of and challenges facing the Somali police as it moves from a military-controlled force, dogged by corruption and human-rights abuses, to a trusted independent agency.
Chief John Harrington of Metro Transit Police and other police commanders have joined Siraach to work with Mogadishu police.
They sometimes use vacation time to make the trip. Twin Cities law enforcement has an interest in investigating crimes and terroristic links between the two countries. Until recently, there was little cooperation from Somali police. Harrington said Siraach has made progress.
“He rewrote the book on how this work should be done,” Harrington said. “And I fell in love with that country through him.
“I am incredibly proud of him. He’s doing this for all the right reasons. At first, when he talked to me about going over there for a year, I told him he was nuts. I wasn’t going to give him a leave. I have lost officers to conflicts in the Middle East. Waheid said he was committed and needed to do it. I ended up going over there for awhile to help him. He also is one of the finest detectives I have worked with. He is a voice for the good. He was our officer of the year in 2009. And I will do anything I can to help him.”
Siraach and several other U.S. officers worked with Somali officers last year to assess an investigation of a terrorist attack in 2017.
It inspired the police force and inspired confidence in the people they serve.
“We are brothers in blue,” Siraach said. “We want to help Somali police and the people stabilize their country. It’s getting better.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.