Thursday, August 22, 2013

Meet the New Police, Same as the Old Police

Honduras has a new law establishing a military police force meant to police the civilian population.

Apparently Juan Orlando Hernandez, who championed this bill only after leaving the Congress to run for president, is pining for his teens and 20s because he's set Honduras to return to military control of part of the civilian police force that used to be the norm.

The military likes it because they get to appoint 5000 more troops, called up from the military reserves, and they get a bigger budget as a result as well.

General Rene Osorio Canales says the new force needs training and vetting, but will be ready in October.  (How much training can they get in a month?)

This proposal stirs up memories, and not good ones. Honduras used to have a militarized police force, called the Fuerza de Seguridad Publica. It had an awful reputation for human rights violations and corruption.  Its National Investigation Directorate [DNI in Spanish], responsible for "investigating" crimes, was useless.  They merely sat in the office and took crime reports (and solicited bribes) from victims.

It was actually worse than that.  Ineffectual in dealing with crime, the DNI was good at something: violence against the Honduran population.

Edmundo Orellano wrote in a report in 2004 that during the 1980s, the FUSEP:
Through its dependency known as the National Investigation Directorate, once the constitution [1982] was in effect, persecuted, tortured, and murdered hundreds of Honduras because they thought their ideas were dangerous for the stability of the regime.

Orellana continues:
A consequence of this conduct by the [millitary] police and the submissive attitude of the judiciary [towards that behavior] was that Honduras was condemned in the Corte Interamericana de los Derechos Humanos.

In 1993, the Honduran government took away investigative powers from its military police force and gave investigation over to the Public Prosecutor's office. Instead of hiring people who hadn't completed high school (the FUSEP model), the Public Prosecutor's office only hired those with at least a high school or college degree, to try and avoid the abuses of the past.

Orellana notes that they quickly found that it was in fact, a corrupt [millitary] police that was behind much of the crime.

This led to a political war between the military and the public prosecutor's office. 

Congress, in its political wisdom, then tried to reincorporate the investigative services back under military control, but public sentiment and some political will resulted in the investigative force being switched to reporting to the Minister of Security instead, under the direction of the Public Prosecutor.

In 1997 the national police force was formally separated from the military and put under civilian control for the first time since the 1940s. In 1998 the Honduran Congress passed a law creating and regulating the civilian national police force Honduras has today.

The new 5000 member strong police force proposed would be a military police force, not under civilian control, staffed by military reservists who are called up to serve.  They would be better paid and have better benefits than the national police according to analysts, who indicated that this will exacerbate the financial crisis in Honduras.

Jose Simon Azcona, a Liberal party congressman, says the idea for a new militarized police force came from the US Embassy, and that
the government of the United States had offered assistance, and were converting four batallions into military police under the previous administration. 

So that's 5000 new military police.

But that's not the only new police.

There also is a newly created community police force, brainchild of uber Secretary of Defense and Security Arturo Corrales.  This project, done by decree instead of by law, is to hire 4500 new civilian police starting in September of this year.

Corrales announced earlier this month that he had discovered in his first 100 days as uberMinister that there were 2,150 phantom police officers, people on the payroll collecting salaries, but who could not be located in two successive attempts at roll call.  He says they're fired, and he'll replace them in September.

The lawyers in the Public Prosecutor's office say he's wrong, and that it's more like 9000 phantom police officers.

Corrales says he's budgeted for 15, 655 positions, but there aren't that many police on the payroll.  In May there were 14,472 on the payroll, and in July there were only 12,800.  Only 9,350 police could actually be located at work in July and they weren't necessarily the same individuals as the 12,800 on the payroll. 

Adding it all up, over the next several months the Honduran government proposes to hire 9,500 new police. Paying for those police is another thing.

Corrales claims that he can hire the 4,500 new officers for the new community police from his existing budget, but that's only so if 9,350 number is the true number of police actually hired and working. 

He still has to identify and get rid of the phantom payroll.  To date he's only identified and fired some 2,000 phantom officers.

The only proposal for how to pay, equip, and house military reservists called up to take over civilian policing put forward so far is to take the cost from the security tax fund, which was put in place to provide equipment, not pay people.

But neither the bad history nor the bad economics is standing in the way of these increases. Honduran politicians want more officers on the streets. What do the Honduran people want? Why would that matter?

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