Police: problems, progress, protests

Police raid a home in a Tuesday raid in El Chorrillo, get a young man for whom they were looking and recover items stolen in a Saturday robbery at the Restaurante Los Tarascos on Via Brasil. It the crime in question three men armed with pistols invaded the Mexican restaurant while a fourth waited in a stolen gray Toyota Yaris getaway car. The vehicle was taken a month before and has been identified in other robberies. A diner who resisted was kicked in the face and everyone on the premises was stripped of their valuables. Police say that they have identified the other three suspects, but they did drive off and those three and the stolen car remain at large. Ministry of Public Security photo.

So why these crime waves? And what to do?

by Eric Jackson

Yes, anyone who even casually follows the news here will notice the indicia of drug gang wars. There are the bound and gagged bodies with gunshot wounds to the back of their heads and dumped where they were not killed. There are the young men dripping in gold, shot in public places with no attempt to take anything. There are the drug shipments seized by law enforcement, followed by gangland enforcement against those who got away. Those sorts of things wax and wane with the shifting of international drug smuggling routes. Any cop, judge, prosecutor, military officer or politician who tells you that progress is being made on this front is a liar.

But then there are the crime waves like the ones we are seeing now. Young men get on a bus in Bocas del Toro, produce weapons and rob the driver and all the passengers. Gangs of masked and armed robbers taking over a restaurant to empty the till and rob all customers and employees. All that against the usual backdrop of domestic violence, settling of accounts over romantic triangles, disputes between neighbors that get violent and so on.

From many quarters comes the hue and cry. In the chambers of the National Assembly, just whom you might expect calls Security Minister Rolando Mirones “chicken.” People who got their expertise reading firearms sales pitches and watching Hollywood hero with a gun fare complain that deadly weapons are not easily enough available. A jaded population figures that the police, or the prosecutors, or the judges, have been bribed on a grand scale to look the other way, and allegedly scientific polls are published in ways to set such suspicions as concrete facts. Often enough around grains of truth, legends grow about soft on crime authorities.

Organized crime, when it does flourish, generally does so with police paid not to do their jobs. Wise residents of this country will best defend themselves from the violence associated with the rackets by staying away from them.

However, it’s the robberies and break-ins and assaults, seemingly at random, that are most people’s main worry. That stuff affects a lot more people and it goes up and down for a variety of reasons. There are traditional ways of dealing with it that have fallen into and out of favor over the years.

Under Mirones, badass militarized units with special uniforms and new names are downplayed. The products of unprecedented uses of a vast array of video surveillance cameras across the metro area and of databases of facts collected now inform a rather traditional practice that has been revived, wherein large groups of police officers move into neighborhoods and round up the known and suspected maleantes, some of them specifically wanted and others just happening to be caught carrying weapons or prohibited substances.

And then, as in the Bocas bus robbery and the Via Brasil restaurant invasion, police get a lead on a particular suspect, go narrowly after that person, and work the case from there. In both of those matters an arrest was made and others are being sought. Mirones has a traditional message about such matters: “The National Police are doing their job,” he told the talking heads of RPC television, adding the lament that “I don’t see anyone applauding the police.”

As in, to the maleantes, if they pull their banal sort of stuff, the police will be coming around.

It’s little solace for frightened people.

The minister’s headaches WITHIN the force? One of the big ones is the manipulation of promotion schedules over the past decade or so. He is  bringing a series of administrative lawsuits to the Supreme Court to set aside a number of National Police promotions during the previous two administrations. He has forced a number of retirements. Argue the unfairness of it, the tendency to promote people with loyalties that may not be good for the force and the promotion of other than the better qualified people, or accuse Mirones of just wanting to clear the way for him to play his own games.

The bottom line is that the current crime wave will pass, criminologists and statisticians will argue about its quantities and qualities and causes, and then we will see other crime waves come and go. On a case by case basis the drop in that sort of thing will be measured by boys and young men who find better things to do with their lives.

And on the Wednesday morning after, a second arrest. In a series of raids in El Chorrillo and Arraijan, the stolen getaway car was recovered and detectives in Arraijan nabbed this suspect in the Saturday restaurant robbery. Cops continue to do their jobs, even if Zulay does call the minister chicken. National Police photo. 

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