When U.S. Army Maj. Daniel E. Fricke visited police stations in Iraq this year, he was surprised by what he didn't see -- flak jackets, gun belts, flashlights and batons.
As a sergeant with the Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the Los Angeles Unified School District's 1,042 campuses, he knows how difficult it is to conduct police work even under the best circumstances.
But the police departments in northern Iraq that he helped train were severely under-equipped, Fricke said.
So he called his boss in Los Angeles, Deputy Chief Lawrence Manion, who asked the school district's 270 police officers to donate their used-but-still-serviceable equipment to the fledgling Iraqi police forces.
Many officers chipped in, donating not only gear, but $1,800 in cash to cover shipping expenses.
A month later, thousands of dollars in spare bulletproof vests, helmets, batons and print kits to dust crime scenes were on their way to the Irbil Police Department in northern Iraq, where Fricke trained newly sworn officers.
"It was stuff that mainly the officers had that they no longer used," Fricke said.
Most of it, he said, was "older stuff" that had been stored inside the officers' training room. Some of the bulletproof vests might have expired, he said, but "most of the stuff still has a shelf life, something that can stop a bullet, and is better than not having anything at all."
The Irbil Police Department has about 15,000 officers, serving roughly 1.2 million people, he said.
"I couldn't make it," Fricke said of the delivery. "I was out in a different region of Iraq. But I got an e-mail, and they were very excited."
Although the United States is sending large shipments of weapons and materials -- including machine guns, body armor, assault rifles, binoculars and computers -- to the Iraqi Army, National Guard and police forces, the military often receives priority, Fricke said.
Meantime, Iraqi police have little to work with.
"We contributed what we could take from our supplies," Manion said. "We had five large boxes, 70 pounds apiece.
"They were filled with leather gear, gas containers, belt holders, eye protection, even patches with our department's name on them. We wanted them to know where their equipment came from."
Fricke said he and Manion want the school police department to adopt the Irbil department and establish an officer exchange program.
"My detectives are excited about helping them set up an investigative department," said Fricke, a detective supervisor for the school police department.
Since the delivery to the Irbil department, word has gotten around the United States to other police departments, which want to donate equipment for the next collection, he said.
Fricke, 49, of Palmdale went to Iraq in June as an Army reservist and was scheduled to return to Los Angeles this month after a brief stop at Central Command headquarters in Florida.
A specialist in civil affairs, Fricke was assigned to the Multinational Security Transition Center in Iraq, which is preparing Iraqis to assume more control of their country's security. He oversaw the construction of a police training academy in Iraq, capable of handling up to 1,000 cadets at a time.
The experience was nothing new to Fricke. As a reservist, he performed similar duties in Bosnia when that country was making its transition to democracy a decade ago.
The demands of military life are also familiar to his family. Fricke is the divorced father of four. His eldest son, Jeremy, 25, is serving in Mosul, Iraq, with the Army's Stryker Brigade and another son, Josh, 19, is in basic training to become a military police officer.
Fricke's 22-year-old daughter, Jennifer, takes care of her youngest brother, Jerred, 17, a senior at Quartz Hill High School.
When Jerred graduates in June, he also plans to enlist.
Fricke said he is slowly getting used to the idea of his sons becoming soldiers, especially after Josh walked away from a football scholarship at the University of Missouri this year.
"I was dead set against my son joining," he said. "I said finish your schooling, get your scholarship and play your football."
Later, Jeremy sent him an e-mail that said: "You did it and look how you turned out."
Slowly, Fricke's attitude changed.
"I said, 'You know what? You're right,' " Fricke recalled. "I still want them to go to school, no matter what. I would prefer them being doctors and lawyers, but you need someone to secure the streets."
Fricke said he couldn't have done what he did in Iraq without the support of his co-workers at the Los Angeles School Police Department.
"They're fantastic," he said. "They supported me when I was over in Iraq 100% with benefits, equipment, information. They took care of my family when I was over there.
"Deputy Chief Manion is pro-military and supported me every step of the way."