One group of police officers in El Salvador accused of running a death squad has been freed just as another group accused of trafficking illicit objects to inmates has been sent to prison, a seemingly stark illustration of how the government is dealing with suspected crimes by its security forces.
An El Salvador court has ordered that seven members of the country’s National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) remain in pretrial detention for trafficking illicit objects into jail cells, breach of duty and illicit association, El Mundo reported.
The police officers allegedly charged inmates between $300 and $500 to smuggle cell phones, cell phone chips and marijuana into holding cells known as “bartolinas,” which the police have for inmates awaiting trial, according to El Mundo.
After removing the inmates from their cells for cleaning, the officers would allegedly put the contraband into the inmates’ food bags.
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An August report by Factum said that four members of an elite unit of El Salvador’s PNC known as the Special Reaction Forces (Fuerza Especializada de Reacción – FES) committed at least three extrajudicial killings, two sexual assaults and extorted money while using social media networks like Facebook and WhatsApp to coordinate and discuss the illegal activities.
On September 4, El Salvador Attorney General Douglas Meléndez told Factum that those accused had been released after the required 72 hours of administrative detention, and put on administrative leave to do “desk work,” as one PNC official put it.
InSight Crime Analysis
While both investigations are still in their preliminary stages and final judgements have yet to be made, the cases illustrate a painful reality regarding police corruption: some crimes may be more acceptable than others.
There’s no question that El Salvador’s gangs pose a serious security challenge to authorities. Attorney General Meléndez and his family recently reported receiving death threats and being ordered to leave the country. And El Salvador’s police forces and their relatives have been increasingly targeted by the country’s gangs.
However, anti-gang death squads led by security forces and police corruption in general are also serious problems. How authorities handle the latest high-profile case, and police reform more broadly, is sure to have wide implications for the country going forward.