As the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) engages in peace talks with the Colombian gove...
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The government is trying to rid corruption from within the National Police, as at least 90 officers were fired between September 2011 and January of this year for their ties to organized crime and drug trafficking.
“[The] perception [people] have of the police is that officers plan crimes such as kidnappings and car thefts and have them carried out by criminals they hire,” said Edmundo Orellana, a former attorney general at the Public Ministry and former Foreign Relations Minister who is running for president on behalf of the Liberal Party. “The criminal actions of dishonest policemen have contributed to the notion citizens have that this institution is dangerous.”
President Porfirio Lobo, in an effort to improve the National Police’s image and enable it to regain the public trust, created the National Directorate for Investigation and Evaluation of the Police Career (DIECP) this past November.
The DIECP, which has a budget of $30 million lempiras (US$1.5 million), is to investigate corruption within the police force, said Oscar Arita Aguilar, DIECP’s national director.
“This job requires time, but we will get it done,” he added. “We will give [citizens] a trustworthy police force that’s credible and good at its job. It will protect the safety of citizens with the utmost respect for human rights.”
General Commissioner José Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, director of the Honduran National Police, said DIECP would hold police officers accountable for their actions.
Edmundo Orellana, a former attorney general at the Public Ministry, recommended the government create a more positive image for the National Police. “The first step is to clean it up, the second is to review the judicial system, particularly how criminal investigations are conducted, and the third is to eradicate impunity,” he said. (Courtesy of Edmundo Orellana)
“We have the responsibility of working toward structuring an institution whose members work in a transparent, honest, and professional way,” he said. “We must fight to improve an image that is quite deteriorated, but we’re certain that we’ll get it done.”
Ramírez del Cid added: “What we’re doing is a process of cleaning up, which consists of firing those who are not doing their jobs in accordance with the law. At the same time we’re professionalizing and perfecting the institution to make it more effective and efficient.”
Ramírez del Cid claims the firings took place because “in our view [the officers] committed serious offenses that violated the law. At present, there is an investigation of all police personnel who are not doing their jobs in accordance with the laws of the country.”
The fired officers, who all had low rankings and did not have decision-making powers within the department, represent about 5% of the force, Orellana said.
“We’re not conducting any type of investigation at this moment,” said Arita Aguilar, referring to the steps that followed the firing of the officers. “We’re in a process of structuring, but in the case of the separated policemen, the Police Organic Law allows us to make this type of decision.”
Fueling the country’s national security problem is the high number of homicides. By December 15 of 2011, there had been at least 6,723 violent deaths reported in the country – 881 more than what was reported during the same period in 2010, according to Migdonia Ayestas, coordinator of the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).
Honduras has a rate of 81.5 homicides for every 100,000, the highest in Latin America, according to the Global Study of Homicides conducted by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODC).
San Pedro Sula is considered the most dangerous city on the planet by the Mexican Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, an NGO that advocates the reporting of crimes and corruption.
Additionally, Honduras has reported a large number of murdered journalists.
The DIECP has support throughout Latin America, as an internal affairs team from Colombia’s National Police is advising Honduran authorities how to coordinate operations and implement the structure.
“We hope the international community and friendly countries will come to our side, that they’ll support us economically, with equipment and with specialized training so that our work becomes highly efficient,” Arita Aguilar said.