The Salvadoran National Civil Police (PNC), with support from the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), graduated 16 counternarcotics K-9 agents to join the fight against transnational criminal groups in the region. The police officers and their canine companions are trained to identify drugs and paper currency, the U.S. Embassy reported via X, formerly Twitter.
“The canines’ intelligence and advanced sense of smell provide a non-intrusive method to quickly scan large areas,” Beth Kutch, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, told Diálogo on August 12. “For example, at the El Salvador International Airport, the PNC’s K-9 division can quickly assess hundreds of passengers and their luggage.”
The PNC currently has 48 active and specially trained teams for detection in four areas: paper currency, narcotics, live disaster victims, and human remains. The Police indicated that in the last four years alone its teams have seized more than $700 million from organized crime.
“We are grateful for the unconditional and vital support of the U.S. Embassy through the INL, which makes it possible for all these advances in our police institution,” said PNC Director General Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, during the graduation ceremony held at the headquarters of the K-9 Department in Planes de Renderos, San Salvador department.
INL donated 74 service dogs to the PNC since 1992, when the aid program was inaugurated with only two narcotics-detecting canines trained in the state of Virginia. Cooperation expanded in 2018 with the donation of 10 more narcotics-detecting canines and two human remains detectors. By 2021, a full-time U.S. consultant was provided and thus the PNC doubled its number of K-9 agents.
“These police service dogs can also identify hidden compartments in vehicles at border posts and ports of entry, such as those located at the borders of Anguiatú and San Cristóbal [Santa Ana department] and Las Chinamas [Ahuachapán department],” Kutch said. “They are also deployed to check places suspected of criminal activity.”
INL also provides support for training tutors, canine trainers, veterinary technicians, and administrators, bringing in instructors from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and border agents from Costa Rica and Colombia, as well as organizing visits for PNC officers to police canine programs in the United States.
The training of the 16 K-9 agents and their dogs lasted 12 weeks between theory and practice. The PNC indicated that they also had the support of instructors from Costa Rica, complying with international standards.
“Canine teams, even during their training, make finds that result in arrests of criminals,” Kutch said. “Examples of this are a canine that detected 25 pounds [23.3 kilograms] of marijuana at a checkpoint and another that found $20,000 hidden in the cab of a truck.”
During the last holiday period, between August 1 and 6, the PNC’s K-9 Department deployed some of its agents on the country’s land borders to prevent the entry of illicit drugs into Salvadoran territory, Diario El Salvador reported. In June, the Attorney General’s Office reported that the agents identified a business distributing marijuana in the municipality of Ciudad Delgado, north of the capital.
“When the division was founded in 1994, we started with four dogs and we have already had a fairly significant run. Today we can see a transformed canine unit, with very good vision,” Commissioner Romulo Romero, PNC deputy director of Investigations, said during the graduation. “Today our unit is ranked among the best in the area and we are very proud of that.”
From January 2022 to date, the K-9 Department’s interdictions increased by more than 500 percent, the U.S. Embassy said. The Embassy estimates that the U.S. government invested nearly $3 million in this cooperation in the last three years.
“INL works with the PNC in three main areas: improving citizen security, combating transnational organized crime, and strengthening the rule of law,” added Kutch. “This includes everything from training in human rights, ethics, and limiting the use of force to new recruits at the police academy, to equipping specialized units that work closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies.”