New Buenos Aires Police Chief Admits Significant Corruption Challenge

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The new chief of Buenos Aires’ provincial police admitted that the institution needs to tackle the issue of corruption, just days after the resignation of his predecessor in the midst of a scandal that has revived concern about malfeasance within the force.

Fabián Perroni, the new interim police chief of Buenos Aires Province, assured the news outlet Clarín in an interview published May 13 that he would tackle the issue of corruption within the institution, though he did not offer many details.

Perroni lamented that in general complaints of corruption and abuse among officers of the “Bonaerense,” as the force is known locally, have either been ignored or used as grounds for retaliation against the accuser.

“That’s not going to happen anymore. Good officers are being encouraged to denounce” corruption, he said.

However, when asked what the proper response to corruption should be, Perroni said, “I don’t have it.”

The new police chief did, however, mention some potential preventative measures. For example, he advocated for a better trained and better remunerated force to undermine corruption and bad policing, while highlighting the importance of adopting community-oriented policing strategies.

Just a few days earlier, on May 9, the head of the bonaerense, Pablo Bressi, was forced out of his position following a series of accusations of criminal involvement, leading Perroni, his second in command, to take over.

Bressi, who previously served as the head of the province’s anti-narcotics unit, has been accused by a national deputy of maintaining ties with an incarcerated drug trafficker.

An investigation by internal affairs was also launched against him as part of a wider probe begun following the discovery of a stack of cash, believed to originate from bribes, in the police headquarters of La Plata, a city in Buenos Aires Province.

When asked about the widespread perception of corruption within the bonaerense, Perroni seemed realistic about the magnitude of the challenge. He estimated that corruption affects about 10 percent of the roughly 90,000 officers employed on the force — in other words, acknowledging that the bonaerense potentially employs several thousand corrupt agents.

InSight Crime Analysis

The bonaerense has a dubious and longstanding reputation for corruption at all levels. And given how deeply-rooted corruption appears to be in the force, it seems doubtful that simply purging the ranks year after year will succeed in eventually tackling the issue, particularly in the absence of deeper structural reforms that go beyond increasing officers’ salaries and improving their training, as advocated by Perroni.

The fact that Bressi — whose career has been marred by suspicions of extortion and covering up of police misconduct — managed to reach the highest echelons of the institution is a telling indication of the magnitude of the problem.

Additionally, the wider investigation into the alleged bribe money discovered in La Plata’s police headquarters is no small corruption case. The amount of money discovered, a little over 150,000 pesos (around $10,000), is no record-breaking sum in itself. But authorities alleged that the money was to be distributed to 36 different recipients throughout La Plata’s precincts, according to La Nación.

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Furthermore, a prosecutor handling part of this investigation was reportedly attacked and threatened by unknown assailants until being eventually sequestered and beaten in his own office earlier this month. As InSight Crime explained, this incident pointed to the challenges facing authorities as they attempt to do away with corrupt elements in the bonaerense, while also highlighting how deeply-entrenched criminal practices have become.

In 2010, nearly a quarter of the bonaerense’s officers had been investigated or faced proceedings for misconduct ranging from corruption to misuse of force, according to La Nación. The institution has been the repeated target of widespread purges, including within the higher ranks, and corruption in the past reached such levels that the bonaerense has been described as a “mafia.”

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