Stripped of its own nature, the Police is a satellite of the regime
Ten years ago envío published an article titled
“Do We Have the Police We Deserve?”
The answer is now irrefutable: No, we don’t.
The crisis in the National Police today is systemic
because its system is immersed in a larger system
imposed on Nicaragua by the Ortega-Murillo consortium.
Since 2007 the refrain “Nicaragua, the safest country in Central America” has been promoted both nationally and internationally. Police Director General Aminta Granera was responsible for doing this in the United States, South Korea and any other country she visited and at any meeting she attended. At the same time, official National Police statistics showed the homicide rate rapidly decreasing.
Nicaragua began to be applauded for the effectiveness of its “preventive, proactive and communitarian police model.” Some wanted firsthand knowledge of such an unprecedented and refreshing experience in a region with otherwise astronomical homicide rates. Others, perhaps even more urgently, thought they could copy the model and apply it in their own violence-ridden country. In Nicaragua, the refrain became a “siren song,” a lullaby seducing the population with the illusion that they live in a criminal-proof country. It was repeated so often that even the police chiefs themselves came to believe it. Despite being situated amidst violent neighbors, the government and the police sold Nicaragua as a veritable “oasis of peace and tranquility,” something like a tropical version of Iceland, that placid island where crimes are a rarity.
Is it really the safest country...?
In the last week of January and first three days of February of this year—when no one expected it, not even the police themselves—criminal violence, silenced in the official statistics and drowned out by the persistent singing of the refrain, moved Nicaragua abruptly from its illusory dream into a real nightmare.
In less than two weeks three resounding violent events shook the country. The first was a shoot-out between criminals and the police on the streets of a Managua neighborhood that left three dead: two officers and one criminal. The second was an attack with assault rifles on a house belonging to a former judge, which the Police hastened to deny had been perpetrated by a hired assassin and still isn’t resolved. And the third was the fatal shooting of a citizen by an unknown person in another Managua neighborhood.
Reality deflated the refrain, at least in Daniel Ortega’s rhetoric. In his February report to the National Assembly on his government’s 2016 administration, Ortega said that “according to the 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI), Nicaragua is one of the three safest countries in Central America and one of the seven safest in Latin America.” Let’s be more specific: Nicaragua is the third safest country in Central America, after Costa Rica and Panama, and the sixth safest in Latin America, preceded by Chile, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Panama and Argentina. But, hey, while we may not be the safest country, we’re well placed on security matters in both Central and Latin America. Why didn’t Ortega just tell it like it is?
The difference between the assessments of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the GPI is that the former are based on a single indicator: the number of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. It’s the one usually used by the media, and even academics, to demonize Central America’s Northern Triangle countries. The GPI, in contrast, considers different variables that measure the existence of internal and external conflicts, the level of a society’s militarization and other indicators of social and citizen security. It builds a closer approximation to reality and therefore is more reliable.
A disproportionate and reactive response
In response to the country’s seeming increase in crime, especially in the capital, the police launched a “plan to strengthen citizen security in Managua.” According to official information, officers from the Special Operations Office (DOEP) and the Los Dantos Brigade (dressed in somber black uniforms), plus the K-9 unit and the surveillance and patrol brigade will be deployed 24 hours a day for 11 months in the capital’s neighborhoods, parks, sports grounds, bus stops, markets, tourist spots and other public areas.
The plan’s novelty is the leading role of DOEP forces—”painted faces” armed with assault rifles—organized to “back up” the regular Managua police force. Because of their training, firepower and deterrent capacity, they’re the ones really heading the operation.
What makes the plan a novelty is that the National Police Law (Law 872) establishes that DOEP is a special police force “empowered to intervene to reestablish public order when there are serious disturbances, to participate in special operations against drug-trafficking, terrorism, organized crime and other serious criminal activities.” Now that they’ll be dealing with common crime, the question arises as to whether they are trained for this mission or it’s just an unnecessary demonstration of police “muscle.”
By deploying elite police forces, the government and the National Police are defining this situation as serious, perhaps even disproportionately so. What’s behind this tacit recognition and this disproportionate and reactive decision? Deploying specialized police forces in Managua may well be a media show to conceal the real problem: the deep-seated systemic crisis of the National Police due to being stripped of its natural functions and put at the service of Daniel Ortega’s dynastic project to remain in power indefinitely.
Does the Police have Managua in a state of siege?
While the official discourse defines prevention as one of the pillars on which Nicaragua’s police model is based, the surge in criminal violence suggests that the Police has lost its capacity to protect and be proactive, to anticipate events so as to ensure the population’s security.
The plan for Managua is a repressive measure that suggests the regular forces’ inability to prevent and confront criminal activity. That in turn suggests that we should wonder about the quality of the training at the Police Academy and of the officers trained there.
From another perspective, keeping Special Forces deployed on the streets of Managua until December implies a considerable increase in spending on public security. And, with that increase in the Police’s operational expenditure, the obligatory questions are: where will the resources come from if this new expense wasn’t contemplated in the police budget for 2017? Will the plan be sustainable until December, as announced? Will this “back-up plan” become an “alternative reality”? What will happen when it clashes with other, concurrent police plans? If what was announced is true, the police will have Managua’s inhabitants living under a sort of state of siege. Can we imagine the number of special and regular police officers who will have to be posted in so many public places for almost a year, not to mention how much fuel will be consumed by the vehicles in which they’ll mobilize?
A police force without a police identity and a model that came to an end
Deploying the special police forces is a “hard-handed” policy against common crime. While respecting the differences, it’s equivalent to deploying soldiers to fight an undeclared war against gangs in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala.
In the short term, there may be a relative decrease in criminal activity as a result of this deployment but it will probably only be for as long as the plan lasts at best. If this happens, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a police “success” and even less as a “defeat” of crime. It’s natural under these circumstances for crime to withdraw, testing new survival tactics in the new setting.
How can such a sudden turnaround be explained in the “safest country in Central America” with such a widely admired “preventive, proactive and community-based police model”? The only answer is that this model has come to an end with the Police becoming identified with Ortega’s project.
This new rationale renders the police institution unable to fully comply with the missions assigned to it by the Constitution and the laws and, consequently, has lost the legitimacy of its origin and its performance. As of January 2007, when Daniel Ortega returned to the presidency, the National Police began to lose its identity as a police force, an identity it had laboriously begun to build to survive as an institution after the FLSN lost the elections in February 1990.
Starting from that moment, the police hierarchy rapidly began to weave an increasingly closer relationship with Ortega’s political project. In the paroxysm of this identification, Director General Granera stroked Ortega’s ego by calling him “Supreme National Police Chief,” a position contemplated in neither the Constitution nor the laws. Nevertheless, she insisted until she finally got this title officially recognized in the amendments made to the Constitution in February 2014 and to the Police Law in July of that same year. In so doing, she achieved something that up until then only the Army had: a Supreme Commander. Granera surely thought she was at last on equal footing with that older military institution.
The Police of the 1980s, the 1990s and today
In the revolutionary decade of the 1980s Police identity was party-based—starting with its name, the Sandinista Police. The chiefs and officers exhibited greater pride in their FSLN membership cards than their police ranks. In those years the Sandinista Police was just tagged onto State Security (DGSE). The security of citizens was incorporated under the security of the revolutionary State. The rationale was simple and primitive and it wasn’t up for debate, particularly in those years of war: ensuring the security of the revolutionary State ensured the citizens’ security.
When the FSLN lost power at the polls in February 1990, the Sandinista Police lost its ideological reference point, its source of identity. Separating the police from the party was one of the key points of the Transition Agreements of March 1990, and one of the first measures of the government of President Violeta Chamorro was changing its name to National Police. Since January 2007, however, it has become clear that separation from the party, breaking the organic-functional ties with the FSLN, was only a necessary formality to survive in an adverse setting.
Under the “group thinking” rationale, the police chiefs may have thought they would recover their original Sandinista identity with Daniel Ortega’s return to government. But if so, it was self-deception. The slogan “In Sandino and with Sandino,” which the Police displays on its website, is just rhetoric. It’s not even remembrance, because they traded in the Sandinismo of Sandino and Carlos Fonseca, their ethical legacy, by serving the Ortega-Murillo consortium, which they now do diligently and unashamedly. This is now their raison d’être, their ethos, their sense of belonging.
What is the police education system?
To better understand this crisis we need to analyze how this identification has affected the behavior and development of key elements in the police system.
The first of these elements is the Police Education System, starting point of the police career and responsible for educating, forming and training those who are to ensure the security of citizens and their assets. The first thing that stands out is the lack of available official information about this system, whose lead body is the Police Academy, the “cradle of police knowledge,” as it calls itself on its website.
Little or nothing is known about this educational system. We only read in a very general and descriptive way that the five stages of its curricular changes and the different courses the Academy offers were recognized by the National Council of Universities (CNU) as an Institute of Higher Studies in 2000. These studies range from Basic Police (6 months) to Medium Police Technician (11 months), and to the Degree in Police Studies (4 years), as well as degrees and masters in Police Management, Pedagogy and University Management with emphasis on Police Education.
It’s also known that the Total School Model—established by the Police modernization program financed by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) between 1997 and 2000—is made up of three sub-systems: Formation, Training and Ongoing Preparation. Nothing, however, is reported about the courses’ programs, study plans and contents, or about the teaching staff. This information may be in the CNU files but it is inaccessible.
As the Police exercises institutional and functional autonomy, the institution decides for and by itself what it teaches, who it teaches and how it teaches, because the CNU’s participation is just bureaucratic. There is, then, no civilian control in a system that works behind closed doors. It makes one wonder what the Police is hiding and why it’s hiding it. It’s reasonable to ask about the kind of officers being trained. Recent events have given us some clues. The shortcomings of the police education system within the Total School Model are a clue to understanding the Police’s systemic crisis.
“They join the police forcedue to a lack of alternatives”
Another aspect of the crisis is found in the recruitment procedures developed by the Police Academy, especially the requirements needed to enter and the rigor with which they are observed. The general requirements were listed for the special recruitment drive in 2011: applicants must be Nicaraguan citizens of proven integrity and with a vocation of service; of good reputation and standing in the community where they live, with no criminal convictions or police record. Among other documents, three letters of recommendation must be presented. The requirements and documents are the same ones usually asked for by other public institutions.
In a country where almost 100,000 young people a year enter a highly informal economy in which 7 out of every 10 jobs created are informal, usually precarious, poorly paid and require few technical or educational skills, the future prospects for these young people aren’t very encouraging. Their options are virtually limited to underemployment or emigrating in search of better opportunities, mostly in Costa Rica.
A small number of these young people seek the possibility of improving their living standards through a career in the Police or Army. What are some of the general socioeconomic and educational characteristics of the young people who aspire to a degree in police science? Speaking realistically and unusually frankly, a retired senior commissioner, who was the director of the Police Academy and then one of the deputy directors of the Police, said they are “people with few possibilities who go into the Police because they want a decent professional career.”
The September 2009 research protocol of two police commissioners from the Masters course in pedagogy with mention in Police Education also recognized this reality: “The candidate who enters the Academy comes from the social strata with few economic resources and a lack of other alternatives such as access to higher studies and employment opportunities.”
A significant number of benefits
The “few possibilities” refers to the fact that these young people are from low-income families that can’t afford a higher education institution. In addition, their high school academic record isn’t outstanding, which prevents them from passing the entrance exams to public universities. And although public universities have now made their admission exams “flexible” to hide the failure of the subsystems throughout the national educational system, attending college for four or five years involves costs their families are in no position to carry.
In this bleak setting a “vocation of service” is a pipe dream, not a standard requirement or even the motor that drives them to enter a police career. What attracts them in the recruitment announcement is the list of benefits they would have as Academy students and active police officers.
Among other benefits, police students receive a full scholarship, a monthly allowance, board and lodging, special medical and dental care and uniforms. Active members of the institution receive a salary, life insurance, police social security, breastfeeding subsidies, eyeglasses, orthotics and prosthetics, personal loans and access to the police commissariat, among other benefits. With no chance of attaining a profession in civilian life, the police force is the best and practically only option they have to move up the social ladder and improve their economy.
A politically contaminated selection
How is the background of aspiring police officers verified? Theoretically, the Academy checks the candidates’ ethical-moral standing in their social environment and determines if the candidates and their relatives are people with “the moral authority required to assume their responsibilities” as police officers.
Only the aspirants’ files are used to tell whether they have this moral authority or not, although the three letters of recommendation facilitate the task of checking backgrounds. In the current political setting, where the Ortega-Murillo consortium controls all threads of power, the background check can be simplified by the letters of recommendation coming from the Family Cabinets, formerly known as Councils of Citizen Power, which are instruments for politically controlling the population in the neighborhoods.
The verification on the ground is also done through the Cabinets rather than the community, because the Police interrelate with them and most aspirants very likely come from the population who control the Cabinets. So the selection lacks the required professional rigor by being politically contaminated. This inbred approach explains why the Social Crime Prevention Committees were dismantled.
How many police officers are collecting bribes for their bosse?
It can be argued that what happened to Diógenes Trinidad Medina Martínez, the former police officer fingered as the leader of a criminal gang who died in a confrontation with the Police in a Managua neighborhood on January 26, is an isolated case. Or maybe it’s another alarm bell about one of the ways in which police corruption functions.
Diógenes was a young man with a future in the institution, corrupted by his own bosses. Family members and police sources, speaking anonymously in a report by the Nicaraguan publication Confidencial, said this boy was corrupted in one of the capital’s police districts, beginning when his bosses asked him to form part of a “select group” whose “special mission” was to collect bribes in drug outlets and nightclubs. “The Police knew about everything,” said one of Diógenes’ relatives.
“This kind of thing is common in the Managua police districts,” stated one of the police sources consulted. “I was in one and they told me with no aversion that I had to go and pick up an envelope from a certain shopping mall as a contribution for sports activities. But it wasn’t anything like that. The bosses kept the money. Other times I went to the discotheques to bring back an envelope. The same thing and for the same kind of activities. There are many Diógenes out on the streets.” If this is so, it’s evident that there are also many bosses in the police ranks who corrupt their subordinates.
Diógenes is not an isolated case. It has precedents. We have perhaps forgotten two in particular. The first had to do with high-ranking police officers who were known at the time to frequent a seedy bar-restaurant-nightclub called Aquí Polanco located in the vicinity of the Wholesale Market, to pick up large sums of money for their chiefs. The dive’s owner was murdered in March 2006 with a gun belonging to Managua’s then-police chief. While the material author was tried and sentenced, the intellectual authors were not. The other case was the murder of a police informant connected to the same Managua police chief as in the case above, in a restaurant close to the Central American University (UCA), seven years later, in March 2013.
Aminta Granera, ten years back
In May 2006, envío said the murder of the owner of Aquí Polanco “revealed murky and hidden affairs that leave Nicaragua’s National Police compromised.” At the time Aminta Granera, then inspector general of the Police, was about to become its director general, after a meteoric career in the police ranks. According to the confessions of its then director general, Edwin Cordero, those were the days when the Police paid its informants with cocaine...
Among her functional duties as inspector general, Granera had to “safeguard the institution’s prestige making the necessary investigations based on demands or complaints by authorities or individuals, or cases she knows about relating to the staff’s behavior.” She had to “make decisions based on verifications she conducts and investigations of complaints or demands she receives or knows about concerning police staff’s behavior.” She should also “immediately correct any grave infraction that, through its importance and relevance, significantly affects institutional discipline and prestige, applying the corresponding sanctions.”
After the scandalous March 2006 case, Granera decided to attempt a justification in the pages of envío. The article said she believed the facts were being distorted to tar the whole force with the same brush and called on the media “to be constructively critical.”
Although Granera acknowledged that corruption is a “problem” in the Police, she made a plea to first deal with the corruptors from outside so as to later deal with those from within. In a vain attempt to exonerate the institution she said: “I believe countries and societies have the Police they deserve.” Years later it’s pertinent to ask if the police she still heads, at least formally, is the one we Nicaraguans deserve. Or is it the one she and the Ortega-Murillo consortium have imposed on us?
A decade ago, envío warned in that article that “the National Police is having a tough time internally and could become the next victim of the corruption invading our state institutions. There’s still time to sort things out but a number of members of the force—including some very high-level officers—are providing examples of the perverse consequences of neoliberalism.” Now, when neoliberalism has been replaced by a regime that says it’s “Christian, socialist and solidary,” what’s the perverse explanation for the crisis the Police is currently going through?
For the “interests of the nation”?
Article 30 of Law 872 states: “The Police career is the one developed by the staff in the police institution under a special labor regime, whose procedures for entry, length of employment, care, development, selection of generational replacement and termination of the career are regulated in the current law and the internal regulations issued by the director or director general.
The law specifies the time span of a police career as a maximum of 40 years of active service or upon reaching 65 years of age. But Article 38 adds: “For institutional interests, the duration of general officers’ active service may be extended by the President of the Republic and Supreme Chief of the National Police and for the other ranks by the Director or the Director General of the National Police.”
Article 47 makes clear the political intentions of Ortega’s amendment, made in 2014, since it establishes the director general’s term in office as five years but allows the President of the Republic to extend it “in accordance with the interests of the nation.”
Interests of the nation, the institution or the regime? While the overall growth rate of the police force (number of cops or troop strength) increased 58.97% between 2006 and 2015 (the last year of available data), the number of general commissioners in those same years went from 4 to 20 (400%), senior commissioners from 32 to 144 (440.6%) and commissioners from 136 to 376 (176.5%).
The Police has grown exceedingly top-heavy
In 2006, the ratio of police chiefs (commanding officers) to regular officers was 1:54. By 2015 that ratio had fallen to 1:23. In common parlance the police force has become an institution “with more chiefs than Indians.” While the National Police as a whole is numerically increasing, it is becoming a deformed body whose head is fast growing in a disproportionate and disorderly proportion to the rest of the organism.
That institutional deformation was already becoming evident seven years earlier. At that time, retired Senior Commissioner Javier López Lowery, a founder of the Police, warned that its command was turning “from a pyramidal to a quadrangular structure due to the increase in the number of senior officers.”
Although López Lowery’s analysis is only institutional, Roberto Orozco, a civilian public security expert, hit the nail on its political head when he said that “the increase in the number of senior National Police officers doesn’t follow a functional redefinition of the force, as Javier López Lowery describes, but rather a political motivation. As there’s no reason for such a decision based on studies, we must assume this structural transformation of the hierarchy conforms to President Ortega’s strategic interest in extending his subjective control over the institution using a mechanism of perks or patronage that entails rewarding officers loyal to his political project.”
The little brother complex
The deformity also involves serious effects to the Police’s organic-functional structure, which in turn impacts the logic and functioning of the vertical, single command that characterizes any police force.
Article 40 of Law 872 prescribes: “The hierarchy is determined by the duties carried out within the organizational structure by the officer and the rank s/he holds. The reciprocity between hierarchy of post and rank will be determined by the respective regulation issued by the Director or Director General.” But this regulation is unknown. What is known is that in National Headquarters there’s only space for six general commissioners, one each in the five General Sub-Directorates and one in the General Inspectorate. Therefore, one has to wonder: What do the other 18 General Commissioners do?
Ever since the rank of general commissioner was established it has become a somewhat vulgar practice, although not to them, to just call them “General” and not their full title. Is it perhaps that they feel more recognized and have greater power if they are called “general,” which in Nicaragua only corresponds to the military? Perhaps the “little brother complex” between the Army and the Police has reemerged and we have to see today’s Police as the Army’s little brother, seeking recognition and imitating everything the older brother does.
Upgrades in rank, “a reward for loyalty”
If the regulation referred to in Article 40 of Law 872 exists, it doesn’t appear in the Police’s Legal Framework described on its website. It’s not public knowledge. Consequently, it’s impossible to further investigate important aspects such as promotions and upgrades in rank, or whether the reciprocity between hierarchy of post and rank is actually complied with, or if the requirements established for these upgrades are effectively complied with.
The lack of official information, which is a lack of transparency, characterizes the Police and all state institutions and opens the door to doubts about the upgrades’ legitimacy, leading us to think that they don’t follow the criteria on which a police career is based.
The only possible explanation is that these upgrades are, as Roberto Orozco says, a reward for the police leadership’s loyalty to the Ortega-Murillo consortium’s project, as well as the consortium’s need to keep them at the top leading the police hierarchy, the national guidelines, the support agencies, the departmental delegations and even the more important municipal delegations.
Until 2015, 80 of its founders were still in the Police and 158 of its officers already had 31 or more years of service, an indication that they had joined during the first years of the revolution when it was the Sandinista Police. It’s evident that the “founders group” is on the verge of extinction and that Daniel Ortega needs to hold onto them any way he can in order to ensure personal—not political or ideological— loyalty to ensure his regime’s existence and stability. This is the only way to explain Law 872’s extension of the retirement age to 65 and service time to 40, as well as putting the retirement of the first commissioner and general commissioners at Ortega’s discretion under the nondescript justification of “institutional interest.”
Retaining the director general and general commissioners in their posts indefinitely has led to a blockage in the normal course of a police career. The 25 members of the police leadership—the director general and 24 general commissioners—who will remain for as long as Ortega needs them have not only made the institution top-heavy but have also corked a bottleneck preventing the upgrading of 173 senior commissioners and 512 commissioners, a total of 685 officers. This pressure will have to explode sooner or later.
As the upper echelon grows, so grows the budget
As the Police swells with more general commissioners, senior commissioners and commissioners, police spending is also inflated, especially in the area of “personal services” (wages, bonuses and allied compensations). It also widens the gap between those who earn a lot and those who earn little.
In 2007, when the National Police was still formally one of the four general directorates of the Ministry of Government (MINGOB), it had a staff of 9,290, one director general, four general commissioners and 32 senior commissioners, and a budget of C$925,481,204 (roughly US$51.4 million at the exchange rate at the time), 77.6% of MINGOB’s total budget. The remaining 22.4% was shared between the Fire Department, Migration and the Penitentiary System. While this is inexplicably disproportionate, by 2016 the Police had a staff of 14,470, a 64.2% increase in personnel over 2007; the general commissioners had grown six-fold, to 24; and the senior commissioners by nearly as much to total 173. At the same time, as was to be expected, the budget for public security grew to C$2,834,767,281 (approximately US$100 million) in 2016 and to C$3,367,890,845 this year (US$113.5 million at today’s exchange rate).
In 2016, “personal services” consumed 59.9% of the Police’s total budget. In 2017 it increased to over 66.6%. It’s clear that the increase in spending for “wages and related items” (13th month bonus, additional wage bonuses, etc.) between 2015 and 2016 wasn’t from the incorporation of 819 police officers, whose 2016 monthly salary was some C$6,000 (roughly US$212), but through the upgrading of 4 general commissioners, 31 senior commissioners and 132 commissioners in the same period.
This means that taxpayer’s contributions are being used to further enlarge the head of a body that doesn’t work and isn’t able to guarantee the security of citizens and their assets.
How is the Police budget being administered?
The June 2014 amendment to the National Police Law made official the separation that in fact existed between the National Police and the Ministry of Government. Beyond any political intentions behind the amendment, this decision further complicated the possibility of adequately analyzing the quality, efficiency and transparency of implementing public security spending, which was already difficult before the amendment. The reason is simple: “personal services” is presented as a whole rather than being disaggregated by rank or position, so the only thing that can be assumed with a significant degree of certainty is that the salaries of the director general, general commissioners and senior commissioners must be equivalent to those of the minister, deputy ministers and general secretaries of a ministry. From this it can be deduced that a high percentage of the “personal services” in the police budget are concentrated in 63 or 64 senior positions, without including a series of benefits such as assigned vehicle, fuel and vehicle maintenance, to cite just three examples, in addition to the “wage bonuses.”
The separation of the Police from MINGOB had one positive result. We now know in a little more detail how the Police budget is distributed, particularly in “personal services,” which is partially disaggregated in “current expenditure.” This small loophole has only enabled us to find more questions than answers, or perhaps to find certainty of rigged administration of the resources assigned to it.
The integrity of someone who once wanted to be a nun and is now the director general of the Police should oblige Aminta Granera to be transparent and sincere with the citizenry and taxpayers. In the first place, she should make public the list of all police salaries by position and rank. She should also explain why, in the budget passed by the National Assembly, there are duplicated items with the same code but different amounts, such as wages for permanent posts, 13th month, employer contribution, seniority bonus and other additional wage bonuses. In addition, she should tell us why the wages for temporary posts, daily wages for the 13th month, and employer contributions for temporary staff are in triplicate. Are there two or more police officers in these posts? Or is it a crude budget scheme to hide a double or triple payroll to pay for submission and loyalties?
Although the Ministry of Government’s intermediation between the Police director and Nicaragua’s President was little more than a formality given that the ministry had no capacity to exercise civilian control over the Police, eliminating it not only ended the formality but turned the Police into a virtually autonomous institution that is functionally and institutionally accountable to no one.
Fewer crimes or fewer complaints?
If the homicide rate in Nicaragua is low, it isn’t because we have a professional and super-efficient police force. There are other significant reasons, such as the fact that the permanent state of armed, political violence in the country took up the spaces that “naturally” correspond to common criminal violence, whether armed or not.
Despite this, it’s already a fact that criminal activity is on the increase. Otherwise, the Police wouldn’t have deployed their special forces in Managua to confront common crime. The official rhetoric stresses the low homicide rate, ignoring crimes that, in fact, daily create more insecurity in the population: injuries, rape, domestic violence, theft, robberies with force, armed robberies and robberies with violence.
In 2013 a total of 2,238 robberies were prosecuted. These crimes were reported, investigated by the police and brought to justice by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. That crime is on the increase is shown by the fact that 3,007 people were sentenced between January 1 and November 9, 2016. But an even more important question is how many crimes weren’t reported. International organizations calculate that there are approximately as many or at best hardly fewer unrecorded than recorded crimes.
In late 2016 and early 2017 the police authorities presented a 15% reduction in complaints as an achievement of their institution. They consider it that because they mechanically and without further analysis relate this reduction to a reduction in crime. But this superficial and unsubstantiated interpretation is sheer triumphalism. The question that should be asked about this reduction is why victims aren’t reporting more crimes to the police. Different journalistic investigations agree that the answers are that they don’t trust the police, it’s a waste of time, they’ll never get anything back… and “the police don’t resolve anything.”
The “safest country” has no public security policy
Article 1 of Law 872 mentions a National Citizen and Human Security and Prevention Policy. It’s fruitless to try to learn anything about it on the police website. It can’t be found, doesn’t exist or is being kept secret, which in fact negates that it’s a public policy.
The only thing available is what is called a “Citizen and Human Security Strategy,” a document issued by the Council of Communication and Citizenry, coordinated by the now-Vice President Rosario Murillo. That “strategy” is an incoherent mixture of goals and tasks that range from natural disaster issues to those related to water and sanitation, forest fires and changes in Nicaraguans’ everyday culture. The strategy states that “the National Police will promote Prevention and Protection Plans for individuals, families and the community.”
In contrast to any public policy, this strategy and its policy, if it exists, is nothing more than a document on a desk with no connection to reality, one that offers little or nothing to resolve the “socially problematic situation” of public security in Nicaragua.
Despite what police statistics show, the increase in criminality—not just recently but for some time now—reveals that the public force isn’t working and that the “strategy” is nothing more than an extravagant declaration of desires with no indication of how they will be made a reality or with what resources they will work to achieve it. It’s just a wish list.
What is real is that the Nicaraguan State has no expressly formulated public security policy with broad-based national consensus. At best, there are just current, temporary plans, not a far-reaching state policy that can stand the test of time, going beyond governmental or party plans.
When this regime changes...
The Police can deny that it’s going through a systemic crisis. But doing so doesn’t solve it; it actually prolongs it and makes it more acute. To deny it is to act like an ostrich, which buries its head in the sand when it senses imminent danger, leaving its whole body exposed.
Systemic crises require systemic solutions, ones aimed at changing the whole system. The first step is for the Police to admit to the crisis, recognizing that its failures and weaknesses aren’t temporary but structural. The fact that a recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent resource on global security, shows a 300% increase in Nicaragua’s purchase of firearms on the international market, and that a growing number of Nicaraguans think “they can protect themselves better with a gun” indicate a tendency towards “self-defense” by people who think that those who should defend them—the Police—aren’t doing or are doing it poorly.
The root problem is that the police system is immersed in and thus is part of a larger system, the one instituted by the Ortega-Murillo consortium, around which it revolves like a satellite. That’s why the systemic solution to its crisis must necessarily come about with the total dismantling of the greater system, through a change of regime.
When this moment comes, the Police will resort to subterfuges to survive in the new setting, just as it did during the three democratically-elected governments after the FSLN’s defeat in 1990. It will then have to be subjected to profound institutional and social scrutiny, to a radical cleansing. Only then will it restart its frustrated professionalization process so we Nicaraguans can finally have the Police we deserve.
Roberto Cajina is a civilian consultant on security, defense and democratic governance.