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U.S. efforts to support police reform in the Americas cited

Reforms include initiatives with regional governments to modernize their judicial systems

Posted: March 31, 2005


USAID's Adolfo Franco advocates community policing at a recent conference by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Washington -- U.S. efforts to support the modernization of Latin American judicial systems require the reform of the overall security sector and, although advances have been made in countries such as Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica and Guatemala, the region still has a long way to go, according to Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In March 29 remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Franco outlined USAID's efforts to support democratic reforms in Latin America and the Caribbean, including initiatives with regional governments to modernize their judicial systems.

Franco noted that USAID sponsors programs that offer dispute-resolution services to citizens who live in remote and traditionally under-served areas. For example, USAID has helped establish Justice Centers in Guatemala and Peace Houses in Colombia, thereby providing new access to justice for over 2 million people in Colombia alone.

In the course of working with regional governments to adopt new codes of criminal procedures, USAID has come to appreciate the necessity of working with civilian police institutions, Franco said.

"Through our efforts to modernize judicial systems in Latin America, it became clear that promoting effective democratic governance indeed requires reform of the overall security sector," he explained. "What is needed is a broad, holistic approach that includes every link in the security-sector chain -- the military, the police, the judicial and legal systems, and the range of other state and community actors involved in oversight."

Franco pointed out that Latin America today is one of the most violent regions in the world, and the region's police are among the least-trusted public institutions. The high crime level and lack of personal security in the region, he said, leads to instability and reduces productivity. Franco cited an Inter-American Development Bank study that estimated Latin America's per-capita gross domestic product would be 25 percent higher if the region's crime rates paralleled the rates of other regions.

As crime has risen to the top of the list of citizen concerns in Latin America and the Caribbean, tackling crime has subsequently become a central theme in political-party platforms in the region, said Franco. He observed that the current presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia are among those leaders who recently campaigned with strong anti-crime messages.

USAID has come to see community-based policing as an important part of the region's efforts to confront crime, Franco added. Implemented properly, these efforts "have proven to be among the most innovative, successful efforts in addressing crime," he said.

The U.S. official cited U.S.-sponsored efforts in El Salvador, Jamaica, Colombia and Guatemala as notable examples of this practice.

Among the elements deemed essential for successful community-policing programs is practical intervention that works at the local level, according to Franco. He explained that engagement of civil society and the private sector, as well as local capacity-building and institution-strengthening and political leadership, are also invaluable ingredients for the success of these programs.

Franco said that despite these advances, the region still has a long way to go.

"The region is still struggling with a legacy that associates police with corruption more than competence, and views them as crime-committers more than crime-solvers," he said.

Incipient efforts to include police in regional security-sector reforms, Franco concluded, provide an opportunity to confront this unfortunate legacy. He said that civilian police and other security-sector actors can champion and drive democratic development in the region.

Following is the text of Franco's remarks, as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

Adolfo Franco,
Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean,
U.S. Agency for International Development

Center for Strategic and International Studies
“Police Reform in the Americas” Conference
March 29, 2005

There is irony in the fact that USAID has been invited to speak to you today about police reform in Latin America. As many of you know, USAID once managed a large global police assistance program - the public safety program. As you also may know, that ended in the 1970s with a Congressional ban on future USAID assistance to law enforcement forces - section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act.

This irony, however, reflects the dramatically different world we live in today, and a new global and national environment for foreign aid. The tragedy of 9/11 and its consequences have transformed our country, government, our agency, and our mission.

When Administrator Natsios took the helm at USAID in 2001, he commissioned a report called "Foreign Aid in the National Interest." The key message of that report was the importance of mainstreaming development into the national foreign policy process. Its findings were prescient.

The National Security Strategy of the United States published in September 2002 clearly identifies development as the third key tool, along with defense and diplomacy, for achieving national security. That document was also the Bush Administration's vehicle for announcing its determination to help build strong democracies throughout the world, a core task of USAID since its inception at the time of the Marshall Plan.

USAID has made notable progress in helping promote democratic reforms in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Over the last two decades, we have witnessed a remarkable transition from authoritarian regimes to democratic forms of government. Civilian governments have replaced military rule in nearly every country in the hemisphere and many of these now have experienced several generations of free and fair elections. The region has also experienced a wave of decentralization which has opened new spaces of political participation for historically excluded populations and improved local governments' capacity to deliver on the promises of democracy. As democracy has taken root, human rights violations have been drastically reduced, and governments are taking actions to promote peace and reconciliation.

As part of this effort, USAID began to work with many Latin American governments to modernize their judicial systems. In 1992, Guatemala became the first country to enact a comprehensive reform to its Criminal Procedures Code. Among other things, this provided the foundation for the adoption of an oral, adversarial trial system; procedural due process guarantees; a right to confront witnesses; and a right to counsel.

The Guatemala effort sparked similar reforms in eleven other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. As a result, average trial lengths and costs of trials have been substantially reduced and citizen confidence in the integrity of criminal processes has improved.

USAID has also supported the creation of Justice Centers in Guatemala and Justice and Peace Houses in Colombia, that offer services ranging from arbitration and police protection to neighborhood dispute resolution and family violence response services. These activities have given new access to justice for 2.4 million people in Colombia alone. In addition, in Guatemala and El Salvador, USAID-assisted mediation centers are offering alternative dispute resolution models that are making justice for the poor more swift and more effective.

Over the years, and particularly with the adoption of the new Codes of Criminal Procedures throughout the region, USAID gradually came to appreciate the need to work with civilian police institutions, and I underscore the words need to. Through our efforts to modernize judicial systems in Latin America, it became clear that promoting effective democratic governance indeed requires reform of the overall security sector. What is needed is a broad, holistic approach that includes every link in the security-sector chain -- the military, the police, the judicial and legal systems, and the range of other state and community actors involved in oversight.

In strong partnership with, and indeed with leadership from our colleagues at the State Department, and particularly the INL Bureau, this was done initially to meet the challenge of these new criminal procedure codes, the implementation of which required close coordination between prosecutors and police. Later, it was used more broadly for crime prevention and other issues of justice-sector planning. This Latin America initiative is now a major thrust of U.S. assistance worldwide, in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

While there have been real advances toward democratic consolidation in Latin America and the Caribbean, we are seeing some worrisome trends that could very well unravel many of these democratic gains.

Today, Latin America is one of the most violent regions in the world, with crime rates more than double the world average and comparable to levels in parts of war-torn Africa. This is taking a tremendous toll on development in the region. Despite significant strides toward democracy over the last two decades, economic growth is largely stagnant and democratic consolidation tentative. Public faith in democracy itself is under threat as governments are perceived as unable to deliver basic services such as public security. A UNDP report released last year revealed some troubling statistics -- only 43 percent of Latin Americans fully support democracy. An equally daunting challenge for those seeking to improve criminal justice systems and strengthen democracy in Latin America is the poor reputation of police in the region. They are among the least trusted public institutions in the region.

Rising crime and lack of personal security not only lead to instability but also reduce productivity and discourage private investment flows. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Latin America's per capita GDP would be twenty-five percent higher if the region's crime rates paralleled other parts of the world. Latin America has found itself caught in a vicious circle, where economic growth is thwarted by high crime rates, and where a lack of economic opportunity, in turn, is contributing to a rise in crime. A demographic bulge has created a whole cohort of youth without jobs or realistic expectations of employment. This situation has fueled a growing problem of gang violence, primarily in Central America, but also in other countries such as Mexico, Jamaica, and Colombia. The arrest last week of over 100 members of the notorious Salvadoran MS-13 gang underscored this problem and led Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to spotlight gangs as a threat to the U.S. national interest.

Crime, along with corruption, is significantly eroding confidence in democracy throughout the region and undermining political legitimacy. Crime has rapidly risen to the top of the list of citizen concerns in Latin America and the Caribbean. Tackling crime has become a central theme in party platforms across the region. El Salvador's Tony Saca, Guatemala's Oscar Berger, Colombia's Álvaro Uribe, and other regional leaders have all campaigned with a strong anti-crime message.

The reactions to the problem have not all been healthy. Certain areas have seen a rise in vigilante justice, such as mob lynching. Frustrated and frightened voters are turning to populists who promise to use a heavy hand to deal with the issue, even at the expense of democratic values. It is far from surprising that USAID-funded public opinion surveys in Latin America revealed that victims of crime have less confidence in democratic institutions and that, in many countries, high levels of crime provide the strongest impetus for a military coup.

Upon resuming programming in this area, USAID has come to see the virtues of community-based policing. When implemented properly, they have proven to be among the most innovative, successful efforts in addressing crime. Some notable examples follow.

In El Salvador, initial support from the U.S. government came from the Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, also known as ICITAP, and focused on the strengthening of the National Civilian Police, or PNC; the creation of a National Police Academy and curriculum reform; investigative training; and the establishment of a police laboratory.

As crime continued to escalate, the US brought educational reform and helped train the PNC in efforts to help modernize its approach to combating crime. In 1999, the PNC, with support from ICITAP, initiated a proactive, flexible community-oriented police patrol strategy in Mejicanos, an area of 240,000 people within the greater San Salvador metropolitan area.

The focus in El Salvador was on removing three major obstacles that faced the police -- a lack of transportation for basic police patrolling, an inadequate system of communications, and poor access to crime-related information. The El Salvador program implemented a community-policing program which, among other things, developed a 911 emergency police-response system, central records and case-management systems, and training for police and prosecutors. As a result of its success, the PNC expanded the program, which now covers approximately 90% of the Salvadoran population and spans 200 municipalities. The community-policing model has been integrated into the curriculum of the Police Academy which we hope will help sustain the program.

El Salvador is demonstrating that the police can be more than just a force that maintains political control. It can also be a key ally of citizens in protecting them from the crimes that plague them.

Now I'd like to turn to Jamaica, a country that has earned the dubious distinction of having one of the world's highest murder rates and the highest murder rate in the region. Jamaica's inner city communities, marked by poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and poor education and health care, have made it particularly vulnerable to crime. In 2001, the USAID Mission in Jamaica, working with the government of Jamaica, the Jamaican Constabulary Force, the Jamaican private sector, civil society, and the American Chamber of Commerce launched a community-policing program. The community-policing initiative is managed through an agreement with an American NGO, the Police Executive Research Forum. The initiative, now in its third year, is being implemented in Grants Pen, a community in the heart of Kingston's inner city. Key initiatives include training for police officers and community residents, creation of a police bicycle patrol, and the establishment of a Community Police Facility.

These offer a range of services -- from basic health care to an ATM machine -- which aims not only to improve police responsiveness and effectiveness, but to build mutual relationships of trust between Grants Pen residents and the police that serve them.

In Colombia, a new country-wide initiative called "Safe Departments and Municipalities," or DMS, was launched by the Colombian National Police, and the Ministries of Defense and the Interior, supported by USAID through Georgetown University's Colombia Program. The DMS program was developed in response to the government of Colombia's groundbreaking "Democratic Security Policy," a 2003 initiative that seeks to address security issues at every level of society, in every part of the country. The DMS program has established municipal crime and violence information systems or "observatories" that are helping mayors and local officials monitor and maintain civil peace. The program views citizens as active participants and partners in governance and has local leaders working closely with public security forces and citizens to devise innovative approaches to citizen security. So far, the DMS program has involved more than 5,000 governors, mayors, city council presidents, and departmental police commanders throughout Colombia.

In Guatemala, President Berger has made law enforcement and anti-corruption his top priority, and combating crime and improving citizen security tops the list of Guatemalan citizen demands and expectations. The USAID Mission is launching a new community crime-prevention plan designed to assist communities and local police. A key component has at-risk youth as its target and programs that provide alternatives to involvement with gangs. USAID will also work to increase the ability of local police to respond to emergency calls. At the national level, USAID will provide assistance to the government of Guatemala designed to build capacity in local police forces and educate leadership in the principles of community policing, respect for human rights, and the management of scarce resources. The El Salvador, Jamaica, and Colombia experiences have demonstrated the importance of a few key elements that have gone hand in hand with successful community policing programs.

The first is investments in practical interventions that work at the local level. An important lesson that we have learned in Latin America is that more is not always better and complexity is not superior to simplicity. For example, in El Salvador, simply replacing random police patrolling with a targeted approach was enough to change the tide. All three programs acknowledge the mutual suspicion and general distrust that has existed historically between police and citizens and are working directly with communities to enhance the credibility of the police as a critical step to transforming a historically negative relationship.

Second, activities in all three countries sought to engage civil society, local governments, and the private sector. As we saw in Jamaica, a little money can go a long way. By pooling resources from host country governments, civil society, the private sector, and donor community, we were able to broaden the community of stakeholders, leverage resources, and achieve economies of scale.

Third, these programs emphasized local capacity-building and institution strengthening. Programs must be responsive to needs articulated by the community, and emphasize transparency and accountability. In El Salvador, town meetings that bring together citizens and local police have both improved the quality of public security and enhanced the credibility of police in the eyes of the community.

Finally, political leadership has been another invaluable ingredient that has contributed to the success of these programs. Unlike most other national security policies, the Colombian policy directly called on citizens to play an active role in the promotion of local security by sharing information, participating in neighborhood watch programs, and collaborating with local officials.

I should say at this point that USAID's current and future work in the area of police reform should be seen in the context of a larger U.S. government effort. The struggle to preserve the historical and developmental gains of the past decades in the face of rising crime is well beyond USAID's capacity and resources alone. Our partners at the State Department, particularly the Bureaus for Western Hemisphere Affairs and International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, have been leaders in this field for some time, and we look forward to working with them, and learning from them.

I would also like to point out that USAID's authority to work on "community-based police assistance" globally received a boost in the 2005 Foreign Appropriations Act. The Agency is now authorized to use development assistance funds to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of civilian police and to foster civilian police roles that support democratic governance.

This new authority will improve USAID's capacity to develop and implement holistic approaches that include a broad range of security-sector actors, working in conjunction with our overarching goals of poverty reduction, economic growth, and democratic development. The agency will apply this new authority with prudence and discretion, evaluating each case carefully and working closely with our U.S. government colleagues at the State Department and other agencies to best determine how this new authority can help us achieve our objectives.

We have come a long way in Latin America and the Caribbean. Twenty years ago, the idea of police and citizens working together in Colombia to make their cities more secure would have been unthinkable. Similarly, cops on bikes in Jamaica might have been considered comical. And 911 calls centers in El Salvador would have been impossible. However, while we have made advances, we still have a long way to go. The region is still struggling with a legacy that associates police with corruption more than competence, and views them as crime-committers more than crime-solvers. This is changing with the growth of movements across the region to include the police in security-sector reforms. Such movements are still incipient, which presents an opportunity for those of us whose vision of a development rests on the belief that real development cannot occur in an insecure environment and that civilian police, along with other security sector actors, can be both champions and drivers of democratic development in their countries.

Thank you very much. I look forward to continuing to be engaged on these important issues.

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