Maintaining and guaranteeing public order at the national level is the primary objective of John Dornheim Castillo, director general of the Panamanian National Police. To achieve this, he works toward eradicating criminal organizations that engage in narcotrafficking, money laundering, illicit arms and human trafficking, while also promoting campaigns for citizen integration with a culture of peaceful coexistence among the entire population.
Twenty-seven years of institutional service, in which he served as National Anti-Drug director, have allowed Director Dornheim to lead the approximately 25,000 men and women to confront organized crime in its different modalities.
To talk about this topic and the institutional challenges, Director Dornheim welcomed Diálogo to his offices.
Diálogo: What is your greatest challenge as director general of the Panamanian National Police?
John Dornheim Castillo, director general of the Panamanian National Police: My greatest challenge as director general of the National Police is to bring peace and security to each and every one of the inhabitants of the national territory, national and foreign citizens.
Diálogo: What are the challenges that the National Police face on a daily basis?
Director Dornheim: To fight crime in its entirety, taking into account that we find ourselves with a less tolerant society, post-pandemic, and with a national, transnational, globalized organized crime that affects the peace and healthy coexistence of all the inhabitants of our national territory. Every man and woman in our institution is watching over the country’s security, and we’re combining our capacities and training to confront crime, because criminals have no borders.
Diálogo: How do you prepare to confront security challenges such as gangs, narcotrafficking, money laundering, smuggling of goods, and migratory flows, among others?
Director Dornheim: We start at the basic level with the selection of the men and women who are going to join the institution’s ranks. From there we go on to a series of training courses and once this training is completed, we proceed to another selection process to form part of special groups that will deal with all types of crimes.
We have the Special Anti-Gang Unit that develops actions together with the Attorney General’s Office to dismantle criminal organizations with excellent results. The implementation of the Accusatory Criminal System has been valuable for our work, since, through more than 19 anti-gang operations in 2022, we were able to bring before judges more than 500 criminals dedicated to all types of crimes.
We also address the migration issue, as we see the related crimes that are generated, such as human trafficking. For example, for the first time in the history of the country, we developed a very important operation in 2022 with Costa Rica, where we participated together with the National Directorate of Migration and the Attorney General’s Office.
We have also developed other coordinated operations in the national territory that have allowed us to dismantle criminal groups dedicated to smuggling goods and money laundering. These examples show us that as National Police we are improving our capabilities to confront crime on a daily basis.
Diálogo: What is the mission of the recently created Financial Investigation Sensitive Unit of the Judicial Investigation Directorate?
Director Dornheim: This unit is very important not only for Panama but also for dealing with transnational organized crime in general. This unit selected men and women with special capabilities to face criminality, made up of the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office and where other state entities participate and with which U.S. agencies, such as the FBI, collaborate. This group, less than a year after its creation, has carried out more than 10 operations, and one of them was the dismantling of a criminal group that operated between Panama and Costa Rica, for which we managed to put a large number of its members in jail and take away the financial part of the organization, which is what makes them strong.
Diálogo: Has the National Police been able to reduce insecurity levels on a national scale?
Director Dornheim: It’s a challenge that we’ve met. In 2022 we brought more than 19 criminal groups and gangs before the competent authorities. We also took more than 3,200 firearms off the street and so far in 2023 [July] we have taken more than 300 weapons off the street compared to the same date last year. The work we are doing is fundamental not only against gangs, but also against vehicle theft, as we have salvaged more than 500 stolen vehicles this year and we have more than 200 compared to last year. In the fight against transnational organized crime and domestic crime in its entirety, we carried out more than 500 operations in 2022, and we are already at the same date with more operations compared to last year, which is a team effort developed by the National Police with all its agencies.
Diálogo: What kind of training do you carry out in order to fulfill your objectives effectively?
Director Dornheim: We have our national instructors and we receive international help from American agencies such as the FBI, the DEA and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), among others. We also receive training from countries such as Germany, England, and many others that allow us to be at the forefront of the new generation of crime.
Diálogo: Let’s move on to the cyber field. What are the most common cases of cybercrime in Panama?
Director Dornheim: In our country the crime that has the greatest impact on society is cyber fraud, and we have attacked it with more than 30 operations against the criminal groups that engage in this crime. We have a cyber-crime division that has been prepared by agencies of the U.S. government and other countries, and we have technology that allows us to carry out investigations in the cyber field.
Diálogo: How does the National Police work against disinformation?
Director Dornheim: We have a press department that sees the strategic part. Once they detect that there is disinformation, they order either the Intelligence Directorate and/or the Judicial Investigation Directorate to corroborate the information that has arisen and from there to provide, through different platforms and in a coordinated way, the dismantling of the information if it is false in order to prevent the population from receiving this information.