The number of security officials in El Salvador who have been charged with a crime rose by over 50 percent in 2016, a development that may well be linked to the growing hostilities between police and the country’s formidable street gangs.
The 1,719 police and military officers who were charged between January and October of 2016 is a 54 percent increase from the previous year, and a 112 percent growth from 2014, according to official figures obtained by news agency ACAN-EFE. Public security officials who found themselves in legal trouble during the first nine months of 2016 surpassed the totals from either of the last two years.
Of the 4,142 security officials charged since 2014, 85 percent are police, while the remaining 15 percent come from the military. Soldiers are frequently deployed to gang-controlled areas, where violence and general insecurity is often the highest.
According to ACAN-EFE, the most frequent crime that public security personnel were charged with over the three-year period is injury (658), followed by threats (527), homicide (441), theft (231) and sexual abuse (176).
The news agency also noted that nearly two dozen police officers have been arrested this year for either belonging to anti-gang death squads or for excessive use of force.
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An increase in the number of police and military officers facing criminal charges could be an encouraging sign that the judicial system is beginning to crack down on El Salvador’s notoriously violent security forces. While that may be part of the reason, the primary factor behind the jump in injuries, threats and homicides committed by the security forces is likely due to a far more ominous dynamic playing out in El Salvador.
Authorities have stepped up their pressure and repression against the country’s street gangs, the most powerful of which are the MS13 and Barrio 18. Shootouts between gangs and police occur on average almost twice per day, with gang members representing the overwhelming majority of deaths that result from these clashes.
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The centerpiece of the government’s anti-gang policy are the so-called “extraordinary measures” that seek to cut off communications between incarcerated gang leaders and their subordinates on the streets. Officials first implemented the measures in April, and have since doubled down on them by increasing security in the prisons and surrounding areas.
In this climate of tit-for-tat violence and building aggression against the gangs, it seems that a growing number of police and military officers are applying their own form of “justice” that violates the country’s legal framework.