LIMA, Peru – The Peruvian government issued a decree March 1 creating a volunteer program allowing citizens between 18 and 21 to assist police nationwide.
The Voluntary Program in Support of the National Police, approved during a full cabinet meeting, comes at a time when Peru is mired in a growing wave of crime and violence.
According to Peru’s first National Survey on Urban Victimization, compiled by citizen security NGO “Ciudad Nuestra” (Our City) and published in May 2011, 72% of Peruvians feel there is lack of personal security in the country, while 41% of the families had at least one member who has been a victim of a crime.
The country’s Congressional National Defense Commission approved a law last December that created a similar program, but the statute was awaiting vote by the entire parliament.
The decree, which will become law a day after its publication in Peru’s official newspaper of record El Peruano, opens the door to young Peruvians to help National Police officers and offers them a chance to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“These [volunteers] will basically support activities within the National Police and other dependencies so Police personnel dedicate more time in serving citizens,” Minister of the Interior Daniel Lozada Casapía said. “They will only perform administrative duties and won’t be involved in maintaining public order.”
After three months of basic police training, volunteers will spend nine months in police delegations across the nation. Volunteers will have the option of enrolling at the National Police Academy upon the conclusion of the program, or they can serve an additional year before heading to the academy, Lozada Casapía added.
Defense Minister Luis Alberto Otálora hailed the program, calling it “a transcendental step toward young people’s participation [in citizen security].”
The volunteer program will bring fresh ideas and approaches to the National Police, said José Peláez, Peru’s attorney general.
“This is an important initiative, since it will shield young people from entering a life of crime and brings much-needed human capital to the police,” he said.
Members of parliament criticized the government’s decision to approve the initiative by decree.
“You cannot go above the decisions and debates of the National Congress,” said congressman Luis Ibérico, member of the Congressional National Defense Commission.
There are numerous questions about the program’s implementation, Ibérico added.
“I am not sure about how civilians are going to handle [police] work,” he said. “Even more so, when young people are going to handle sensitive [material], classified information could be leaked. If they want more policemen, they should hire more or bring some experienced ones back from retirement.”
Criminologist Gustavo Dávila Angulo agrees.
“I don’t understand how, with the Voluntary Police Service, you can meet the logistical needs of police stations around the country,” he said. “What we need is better administration of resources and more slots at the police academy.”
Rev. José Ignacio Mantecón Sancho, pastor of the Virgen de Nazareth Catholic Church in Lima’s populous El Augustino neighborhood, said the Volunteer Police Service “is an interesting initiative that will allow young people to get involved in new roles.”
But he also stressed “one initiative is not enough to fix the situation,” pointing to the need for a “neighborhood revolution.”
Culture, entertainment and employment must be part of a comprehensive crime prevention system, Mantecón Sancho, 62, added.
Through social programs, which include rock concerts by youth bands, art programs and employment workshops coordinated by his church, Mantecón Sancho serves hundreds of young people, including some of the 24,000 who belong to the 410 gangs operating in Lima, according to the Technical Secretariat of Peru's National Public Safety Commission (CONASEC).
“We need to keep the focus on complete programs in which the family, the school and the street are a binding triangle,” he said. “For this to function there has to be a willingness to work, investments and qualified people who can deal with the problem head on.”
César Ortiz Anderson, founder of Peruvian citizen security NGO Association for Public Safety (APROSEC), said the Volunteer Police Service is a good concept, but it’s flawed because trainees need more than three months of training before hitting the streets.
“More police on the streets is not going to solve the problem. We don’t need quantity, we need quality,” he said. “There needs to be an internal cleanup of the National Police of Peru. If we don’t clean house first, nothing will change.”
- Pedro Hurtado Canepa contributed to this report.