Honduras’ Failure to Remove Corrupt Police Highlights Reform Difficulties

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Just seven of 33 Honduran national police officers who failed confidence tests in fall 2012 have been dismissed from the force, exemplifying the difficulties of reforming the country’s highly corrupt police.

The DIECP, the investigative unit in charge of evaluating police officers, ordered the suspension of the officers after they failed to pass a series of confidence tests — including lie detector tests and psychological assessments — in September. The government later decided to re-evaluate these officers.

According to El Heraldo, 26 police who failed the tests remain on the force as of March 2013, with some of these occupying positions as department heads.

A 2012 law makes the failure of any aspect of these tests grounds for immediate dismissal from the force.

Overall, head of the DIECP Eduardo Villanueva said that 230 Honduran police officers of varying ranks who have failed confidence tests have not been removed from the force, according to La Prensa. He said that each of the cases will be analyzed to see why the officers were not dismissed.

Head of the independent Commission on Public Security Reform (CRSP) Victor Meza has called the Honduran police force “unreformable,” and blamed the Public Ministry for a lack of cooperation. The commission was created in May 2012 to assist in the process of police reform.

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Honduras has one of the most corrupt police forces in the region, with 149 civilian deaths attributed to police over the past two years. Even the head of the police, the controversial Juan Carlos Bonilla (who was recently accused of participation in an assassination plot in a YouTube video) has reportedly refused to undergo confidence testing.

The exams are just one component of the government’s larger strategy to clean up the police force. In October 2012, the state announced plans to let go of 100 officers, though the process leading up to this was criticized for being slow-moving. The CRSP has also complained that it has not yet received the funding it was promised, further hobbling reform efforts.

Other countries in Latin America who subject their police forces to confidence tests in order to battle embedded corruption include Guatemala, which removed nearly 200 corrupt officers in 2012, and Mexico, which announced plans to remove 65,000 officers in September. As in Honduras, these reform efforts have been riddled with difficulties, including the question of what happens next after the suspect officers are fired. In Mexico, police purges have at times left key conflict zones with little protection. Concerns have also arisen across the region that newly unemployed officers could be recruited by criminal gangs.

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