Working Toward a More Secure Central America

March 13, 2012
Panamanian National Police Stand in Formation During Their Change in Panama City, Panama

Cockroaches always scurry to the dark when discovered. Experts offer this analogy for why we see shifts in drug trafficking when one country or region successfully resists penetration by illegal trafficking networks. After some successes against these networks in Colombia and Mexico, Central America is seeing an increase in crime and violence which sadly inflicts unwanted pain and suffering on the people of the region. Narcotics traffickers seek to subvert or neutralize a country's judicial and security institutions to make the environment more conducive to their criminal activities. The U.S. government's Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is working to shore up institutions and restore citizen security through programs aimed at improving the police, lawyers, courts and prisons. While change is slow to take hold, we are seeing improvements.

For example, the Department of State launched a program in Lourdes, El Salvador to turn the tide in one of El Salvador's most crime-ridden communities. The goals of the Model Precinct Program include reducing gang-related crime and violence by identifying and implementing regional and international best practices. In 2011, crime in Lourdes dropped by forty percent after two years of mentoring, vetting, training, and equipping police, as well as gang education and prevention programs in schools. Citizens in Lourdes are seeing their personal security improve and are building better relationships with the police helping to bring about change in their communities.

In Panama, we have seen increased police accountability and improved public perceptions of the police due at least in part to our programs. We worked with the Panamanian National Police (PNP) to start Central America's first modern computer statistics program (COMPSTAT). COMPSTAT is a computer program designed to collect and map crime statistics, as well as police responses. This system has increased personal accountability in Panama at all levels of the law enforcement system. This is the latest in a series of INL-supported PNP reforms, leading to a nearly ten percent increase in public opinion of the police since 2008.

The successful work with the police in Panama led to the development of a Regional Police Systems Reform Initiative, which aims to improve police capabilities across Central America. The Initiative focuses on the reform of entire police systems and the injection of modern police philosophies in the areas of Community Policing, COMPSTAT, Internal Affairs, and Police Academies. This program uses a unified team approach with U.S. law enforcement experts and police practitioners from the Colombian and Panamanian National Police forces. Through our collaborative, multi-national approach, we are not only leveraging resources, but also strengthening the long-term sustainability of our collective police reform efforts.

Local programs and ownership are vital to success in crime reduction programs, as evidenced in a number of initiatives throughout the region. In the small country of Belize, for example, the government has implemented a new strategy for public security called "RESTORE Belize" to tackle rising gang crime. This program focuses on community outreach, rehabilitation, and education, as well as a negotiated gang truce in neighborhoods experiencing high-levels of inter-gang violence. INL is working with the community to maintain the truce and to curb enrollment in gangs through the Gang Resistance and Education (GREAT) Program, which is built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curricula. This program has trained 135 police officers as trainers throughout Central America, reached over 10,000 students regionally thus far. The GREAT Program expects to reach 12,000 students in 2012.

The citizens of Central America are demanding safer streets and stronger institutions. INL programs are designed to support their needs and work towards a more secure Central America. Through our joint efforts with local communities, the governments of the region, and outside assistance, we are collaboratively tackling crime one step at a time.

Comments

Comments

Yogi
|
Florida, USA
March 15, 2012

Yogi in Florida writes:

"Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

- John F. Kennedy

Edward
|
Panama
March 19, 2012

Edward in Panama writes:

Once again the attitude of the USA global police state raises its ugly head in terms of this totally egotistic, and unrealistic, missive...supporting the mis spent trillions our USA government spends trying to police the world. You are NOT winning the drug war. Get real please...and stop wasting money and insulting our intelligence.

Ramona R.
|
Panama
March 19, 2012

Ramona in Panama writes:

Before the State Department published Mr Brownfield's article on their blog someone from the US should have come to Panama and interviewed Americans living here. They would have found that Panamanian police are not closed to bribes. If they read the Panamanian La Prensa news paper they would have found that things are not as the government would have them believe.

.

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