El Salvador Creates First Elite Unit to Combat Gangs
By Dialogo April 23, 2012
On April 19, a total of 302 Salvadoran police officers graduated from the first anti-gang unit, specialized in intelligence and even in the language of the so-called ‘maras,’ although the two most feared groups, MS-13 and M-18, have a truce that has reduced crime.
With blue-black uniforms, sawed-off assault rifles, and ski masks, the agents, including 12 women, were sworn in on a soccer field at the National Public Safety Academy in Comalapa, 44 km southeast of San Salvador.
The unit “was created with the aim of strengthening the fight against criminal organizations like gangs,” President Mauricio Funes declared after presiding over the graduation ceremony.
“I want to express my gratitude for the dedication of those who are demonstrating that in order to have an active, efficient, honest, and brave force confronting a powerful enemy that is attacking the very entrails of the Salvadoran state, a great deal of courage and bravery are required today,” Funes exclaimed.
Accompanied by security authorities, President Funes emphasized that the agents were “highly trained in the areas of intervention, investigation, and intelligence.”
Between June and July, the elite unit, which is led by Commissioner Pedro González, will receive new training from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“I want to emphasize that these 302 new police officers underwent a rigorous selection process, with the aim that they meet the requirements of suitability, both moral and physical integrity, and commitment in carrying out their work with the Salvadoran people,” Funes commented.
Of the 302 agents, 68 are part of an intelligence division, 174 make up the intervention (suppression) group, and 60 are part of the the investigative division, according to official reports.
The unit’s primary task will be to combat extortion, which is widely practiced by gangs, chiefly targeting bus owners and retailers, but also families.
The police force, which will be deployed in coming days, will fall under the new anti-gang subdirectorate of the National Civil Police (PNC), which will also include the 150 personnel of what is known as the Special Police Operations Group and the Transnational Anti-Gang Center.
As of February, El Salvador had an average homicide rate of 65 per 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the world’s most violent countries.