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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – The Salvadoran government and private sector have discovered the best way to encourage residents to cooperate in the fight against crime: reward them.
That’s the philosophy behind the Alto al Crimen (Crime Stoppers) program, which pays between US$100 and US$500 for tips leading to the arrests of the country’s most wanted criminals, with bigger awards given for higher-profile suspects.
“This program is a useful tool, both for the ministry and justice system, given one of the major problems we have in the country is our lack of a culture of providing crime-fighting tips,” Minister of Justice and Public Safety David Munguía Payés said. “The plans’ purpose is to fight crime with the help of citizens.”
Alto al Crimen began in March 2012 through a joint effort among the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety (MJSP), National Civil Police (PNC), National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador (CCIES) and the Patria Unida Foundation.
“The crime problem cannot be solved through independent actions carried out by the government or the country’s citizens,” CCIES President Luis Cardenal said. “This is an issue that should unite the will of the people and bring good Salvadorans together against the criminals.”
To finance the program, the private sector provided a seed fund, but the exact amount wasn’t disclosed for security reasons.
Alto al Crimen is based on Crime Stoppers, an initiative that has been implemented in 59 countries worldwide, though El Salvador is the lone Latin American country that uses the program.
The program uses the Tu Pista (Your Tip) website to publish information about the country’s 240 most sought-after criminals who are wanted in connection with homicides, extortions, kidnappings, rapes, assaults against women, theft, narco-trafficking and for having ties to organized crime groups.
Residents fill out anonymous, online forms to provide information on suspects, including where they live, work, frequent or if they have any tattoos or birthmarks. Informants are then assigned a numeric code, and in the event their information leads to an apprehension, informants pick a location where they meet with law enforcement officials to collect their reward money.
The strategy has paid off. To date, 585 tips have been received regarding criminals profiled on Tu Pista, as well as other, lower-profile criminals. As of the first week of 2013, 39 criminals had been brought to justice through Tu Pista.
Tu Pista is managed by the Judicial Provision Enforcement Division (DCJ) of the National Civil Police (PNC).
“When we receive a tip, we cross-reference the information with investigations being carried out by other units to check whether the information is new,” Commissioner William Rosales Santillana, who is in charge of the website, said. “If we need more information, we request it using the numerical code associated with the tip. In this way, we’re able to maintain anonymity and ensure the safety of those working with the justice system.”
Tips are forwarded to police investigation units and the General Prosecutor of the Republic (FGR), Rosales Santillana added.
“All of the information is processed and we verify daily whether the person being reported has an arrest warrant,” Marco López Ortíz, the program’s deputy chief. “With the information we have on the page, we can verify whether they have been arrested or killed. We are constantly reviewing the information that we upload and supply to the population.”
The first arrest attributed to the Alto al Crimen program occurred on March 10, 2012, when Yesenia Marisol Sequeira Quintanilla, who collected extortion payments for the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang in San Miguel, was picked up by authorities through tips provided on the website. She’s awaiting sentencing, which is expected to be between six and 18 years in prison.
Last May, José Misael Cisneros Rodríguez, alias “Medio Millón,” was arrested on murder and narco-trafficking charges in the nation’s capital of San Salvador. His trial is under way in San Salvador.
“The population is making significant contributions due to the confidentiality provided by the website,” López Ortíz said. “During the past three months, we’ve averaged about 100 tips per month, with almost no false information.”