Can a New Database Help Tackle Argentina Police Corruption?

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The launch of a new registry detailing thousands of corrupt officers removed from Argentina’s largest police force could signal a fresh effort to clean up the institution, but questions remain as to whether it will be effective, or even sufficient.

The registry, which contains the names of 8,500 officers discharged since 1966, was announced this past month by María Eugenia Vidal, governor of the Province of Buenos Aires.

The database contains information about the officers and the reason for their removal, which includes charges of corruption and violence, among others. About 15 percent of them were accused of colluding with drug trafficking organizations.

Authorities said the aim of the database, which will be updated repeatedly, is to prevent private security firms from knowingly hiring former police officers with criminal records.

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When presenting the database at a public event, the governor said this was only the first step to tackle corruption within the police.

“The message to police officers is: It is not possible to have an effective security policy with criminals within the force,” Vidal told Clarín.

Since Vidal, a member of Argentina’s governing party, took office in 2015, some 1,400 officers have been removed from the provincial police force, and 27,000 more are currently under investigation, according to figures reported by Clarín.

InSight Crime Analysis

News of corruption within Argentina’s largest police force and attempts to reform it are hardly new. Past administrations have tried to clean up the “bonaerense” (as it is known locally) before, with little success.

The governor, however, came to power representing President Mauricio Macri’s Cambiemos coalition, which focused on eliminating corruption including within the police and tackling drug trafficking in the notoriously problematic province of Buenos Aires — the most populated in Argentina.

These are difficult tasks, given past links between the Bonaerense and drug trafficking organizations. Two cases have even come to light during Vidal’s tenure.

In May 2017, Police Chief Pablo Bressi resigned amid accusations that he knew about payments made to police officers by drug trafficking organizations.

In a separate case, in August 2018, authorities found 160 doses of cocaine hidden in a bulletproof vest inside an anti-drug unit. That unit was part of the police force in La Matanza, one of the most violent counties within the province of Buenos Aires, reported Perfil.

Experts consulted by InSight Crime on the state of organized crime in the South American nation agreed that ridding the police of corruption is paramount. Criminal organizations — which in Argentina are usually smaller in size but have a very tight grip on power in the territories they control — could not function without the active support of the security forces, they said.

With a challenge this great, a database might sound like an insufficient step. Police in Argentina are under-resourced, making it no wonder that many are tempted by the extra income that comes from working with criminal organizations.

Governor Vidal, however, has also announced measures to ensure officers file tax returns, as a way to tackle money laundering, and has given them a salary raise as a way to improve working conditions.

To be sure, transparency measures and better salaries can dissuade officers, particularly younger recruits, from colluding with drug traffickers. But if Argentina is serious about tackling organized crime, further measures need to be taken on a wider level, including investigations into corruption within certain political circles and the prison system.

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