Guatemala Revamps National Civilian Police in Face of Rising Crime Rates
By Dialogo August 21, 2013
The Guatemalan government is hiring 10,000 new agents and earmarking $30 million to arm officers with weapons in an effort to reduce violent crime and revamp its National Civilian Police (PNC). The increase will bring the total number of police officers in Guatemala to 35,000 – one agent for every 400 residents.
Guatemala has one of Latin America’s highest crime rates, and the current government is committed to reducing it, said Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla. Homicides grew 20 percent during the first four months of 2013 compared with the same period a year ago, according to police statistics. Last year, Guatemala had 5,681 homicides or 38.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Guatemala’s police force must be on the same level as the army – not below it – Bonilla recently told reporters.
New uniforms, patrol cars, police academies
The country has updated its police uniforms, equipped patrol cars with new technology, and added two new police academies in the past few months.
“All police officers used to be trained in Zone 6 [of Guatemala City] but now there’s an academy in Huehuetenango and another in Santa Rosa,” said police inspector and PNC spokesman Jorge Aguilar Chinchilla. “The same thing is happening with the police networks. Workshops were all held here in the capital, but now each regional precinct has its own workshops and supplies, and they don’t have to travel to [the capital] to repair a unit. It’s a decentralization procedure that has sped up the process for a lot of Guatemalans.”
This means that all officers will have access to firearms, as well as the authority to use them. A shortage of guns prevented agents from confronting armed criminals in the past.
Guatemala is also acquiring cameras that capture license plate numbers and send signals to police alerting officers of stolen vehicles.
“These changes are taking place to improve and dignify the work of the police. It will put them at the forefront and help them do their jobs better,” said Aguilar Chinchilla.
Reforms follow meeting with Colombian counterparts
The initiatives are modeled on Colombia’s police force following a meeting last year between Colombian officers and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to discuss police reforms in both countries.
Local press reports have described Guatemala’s police force as “underfunded, poorly trained and often outgunned” in the past — adding urgency to measures such as these aimed at instilling trust in the PNC and strengthening law enforcement in Guatemala.
The PNC set up a new high-security task force in early August to tackle crime in the most dangerous parts of Guatemala City. Each unit consists of two officers, a driver and a trained sniper onboard a motorcycle that patrols areas of the capital known to be rife with assaults and vehicle thefts.
“This is a special force against hitmen and thieves,” Bonilla said during the inauguration ceremony. Panamanian specialists will train a total of 108 officers using techniques that have proved effective at reducing crime in the most dangerous cities of Colombia.
Another group of police officers is working on improving transport safety by accompanying buses around the capital to minimize assaults against passengers and drivers.