Agents of Honduras' DNIC at a crime scene

All 1,400 officers from Honduras' investigative police unit have been suspended over alleged corruption and ties to organized crime, once again underscoring the extent of police corruption in Honduras and the scale of the challenge facing reform attempts.

On June 5, every officer from Honduras' Criminal Investigation Unit (DNIC) -- which makes up around 10 percent of Honduras' police force -- was suspended indefinitely, and will now be submitted to confidence tests.

The head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Cortes (CICC), Fernando Jaar, said he was told by Security Minister Arturo Corrales that the DNIC intervention was in response to links between the investigative body and organized crime. "He told us ... they are leaking information to organized crime and were planning criminal acts from that office [the DNIC]," said Jaar.

Since June 2012, Honduran police have been undergoing confidence tests -- including psychological assessments, polygraph tests, and drug testing -- in an effort to tackle endemic corruption.

The day before the suspension was announced, Congress gave final approval for the creation of a special national police unit, the "Tigers" (for their Spanish acronym), a proposed high-technology force with investigative and intelligence capacities. Officials said the force will not be military in nature, as previously planned.

InSight Crime Analysis

The claim that the suspended officers were involved with organized crime is unsurprising, given the notoriety of Honduras' police force. In 2011, one official claimed that 40 percent of police had ties to organized crime, while police have also been accused of extortion, drug trafficking, and carrying out contract killings.

As part of an ongoing reform effort, 652 officers had been removed as of April and members of the top command have been subjected to confidence tests. However, the process has been criticized for its slowness and for failure to suspend some officers who had previously failed confidence tests.

In view of the latest suspensions, the approval of the Tigers unit is an interesting move by Congress. While Tigers officers will be submitted to rigorous testing before being hired, the dynamics of Honduran police corruption indicate that increasing numbers and adding units will not make the force more effective unless this is accompanied by an overall change in police culture.