Photo Jonathan Blair

Monday, April 30, 2012

Look out for CSI Tegucigalpa (NOT a joke)

For the latest on the forthcoming series, check that recent  news release from the Prime Minister's Office:

"Specialised Equipment to Support Law Enforcement in Central America
Implementing Partner: Canadian Commercial Corporation
Funding announced: $3,160,500
Timeframe: March 2012-June 2012

This project supports an ongoing Canadian-funded project in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that aims to develop advanced technical capabilities to strengthen their criminal justice systems. Training is being provided on Special Methods of Investigation through specialised equipment to police and investigation units, including advanced wiretapping, ballistic forensics, surveillance, and intelligence analysis capabilities."

Neat, no? Soon, Central American police forces will be able to track down criminals with the same technology used in Toronto and Montreal. Watch out drug traffickers and maras members: your days are counted!

Now, I hope that technology will work its magic and when I say magic, I mean Magic, as in Harry Potter "Magic," because so much else is missing.

From recent studies of the police in those countries (here, here, here, and here): basic training in all three is minimal; recruit vetting is irregular and un-systematic; corruption is rife, police violence routine; police involvement in social cleansing un-exceptional; prisons are hellish, overpopulated and with stratospheric levels of violence. As pointed out in this recent article from the Vancouver Sun--which has a neat picture of... the turret that some wealthy citizens had built over their entrance to facilitate the work of their private guards-:

"In recent months in Honduras, evidence has turned up of police units involved in murder-for-hire plots, drug trafficking, extortion, auto theft and kidnapping. Distress over police corruption has grown only more intense in the three months since the dean of Honduras’ national university fingered police in the murder of her son and the widow of a slain national drug czar blamed police for his assassination. Deep-rooted police corruption is just one reason for the deterioration of public security that’s shredding the social fabric of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, a region known as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America."

Anyway: at least now, the local police will have high-tech toys to play with when they are not busy working the streets and, I assume, somebody in Canada, hiding behind the Canadian Commercial Corporation, will at least be making money with this one, because that "result" is the only one likely to come out of that initiative.

But it is not even funny: some kind of analysis should be made before investing quite a large amount of money in situations that border on the desperate. The idea that policing is primarily a technical issue should be seen as the ridiculous misconception it is: there were investigations before high-tech ballistics, and effective policing is primarily a matter of trust, professionalism, and hard and careful work. NONE of the best academic analyses of the spectacular drops in crime that recently took place in the US generally, and in New York in particular, identify high-tech tools involving "advanced wiretapping, ballistic forensics, surveillance, and intelligence analysis capabilities" as central components of what made it possible (cf. for example Kennedy --here and here-- and Zimring --here and here). And this is in CSI kingdom...