Friday, June 07, 2013

Police in Honduras

I grew up outside Philadelphia knowing that the police were there to help. Sadly, that it not the situation here in Honduras.

Recent events make that clear.

On Monday, the US government stopped the aid it was giving the Honduran Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), a relatively new agency that was set up to test Honduran police to see if they were trustworthy. See here for an analysis.

On Tuesday this week, a Honduran court issued arrest warrants for five National Police officers accused of killing seven gang members in 2011. See here for a newspaper report.

On Wednesday about 1400 police, all the officers of the DNIC, the police investigations unit, were suspended indefinitely, subject to confidence testing. Supposedly this was done because of concerns about links between this unit of the police (which is about 10% of the entire police force) and organized crime. Read a report here

On Thursday, after protests from about 100 officers of DNIC, the Honduran Security Ministry is going to permit the officer to return to work; they will have to take two days off to take polygraph tests. Here is a short note.

Such a quick turn-around, with such a small demonstration, does not engender confidence in the workings of the security ministry among the people here.

The National Police is a national entity, controlled from the central government. As I understand it, police can be sent to any part of the country. They therefore lack the connection with the local community which we experience in the US and other parts of the world. They are often strangers to the people in the parts of the country where they work.

I have also heard reports of involvement of the police in drug-trafficking and other crimes.

But I continue to marvel at the inefficiency of the police.

For the past few weeks, on the road I take between Santa Rosa and the turn off to Dulce Nombre, a distance of about 12 kilometers, there were two traffic roadblocks – one by the National Police and one by the military, each with about 6 to 10 police or soldiers – often within three kilometers of each other. They stopped an occasional car or truck, mostly to check license and vehicle registration. I saw they looking into a few vehicles.

I was stopped a few times and asked where I was coming from and where I was going. Once I was asked if I was a priest. Once I was told that one of my headlights was weak.

Now there is only one patrol, run by the National Police.

We shall see where these problems of policing end, especially as the National Congress approved a new unit, the Tigers, which is supposed to deal with organized crime and “terrorism,” among other responsibilities, to “prevent and dissuade” crime. Report in Spanish here.

While corruption continues at a massive scale and poverty increases, while the judicial system is seriously inadequate, will a new national police unit really help?

In the midst of all this, we in the religious community here need to continue seeking ways to help the people take responsibility for their lives, develop ways to transform and resolve conflicts without violence, and work toward a culture of justice and peace.

That's not an easy task - but ever little bit we can do may help.

UPDATE: Honduras Culture and Politics blog has an update on what's happening with DNIC and DNSEI, with the concern over the possible militarization of the police.

UPDATE ON SATURDAY, June 8: Friday the Minister of Security, Arturo Corrales, maintained that "the operations of DNIC are suspended, not the agents." An article in Spanish is found here. It still seems odd and a bit of back-tracking.

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