Authorities in Honduras have dismantled several networks of allegedly corrupt law enforcement officers, a positive sign for the country’s efforts to purge its police institution but also a reminder of the depth and breadth of corruption in the force.
Thirteen out of the total of 67 officials allegedly on the payroll of the powerful MS13 gang were high-ranking members of the police, La Prensa reported based on official information from a joint investigation by Honduras, the United States and Colombia. Among the accused are a general, two general commissioners and four sub-commissioners.
The officers were reportedly involved in extortion, murder, bank robberies, auto theft, kidnapping and drug trafficking. The joint investigation also unearthed a network of 28 officials who would allegedly delete gang members’ records and provide them with driving licenses bearing fake names for prices ranging between 10,000 and 14,000 Lempiras (equivalent to between roughly $420 and $630).
The same joint investigation also alleged that dozens of police officers trafficked hundreds of firearms to the gangs between 2012 and 2016, according to a separate La Prensa article. And once again, authorities assert that the corruption reached the highest levels of the police institution, with high-ranking officers turning a blind eye to the weapons trafficking.
On January 11, just days after the revelations by La Prensa, a special police reform commission established last year fired 490 police officers for failing confidence examinations, El Heraldo reported.
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While the investigation and firing of hundreds of officers serve as further positive signs of progress in cleaning up the country’s law enforcement institutions, the allegations of continuing high-level corruption in the police highlight the magnitude of the issue and the considerable challenges that remain.
One major challenge is finding suitable replacements for officers removed from the force. Authorities plan to double the size of the national police by 2022, and as InSight Crime previously pointed out, this goal will be difficult to achieve due to resource constraints. Additionally, the ambitious effort could actually exacerbate corruption in the force if new recruits are not properly vetted and trained.
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Moreover, the police reform commission’s mandate does not include prosecuting officers dismissed for corruption. Honduras’ justice system is thus facing a sizeable number of corruption cases that it will have to try in order to hold corrupt officials to account, and there are reasonable doubts as to the judiciary’s capacity to do so. By September 2016 and within six month of its existence, the commission had already referred 500 police corruption cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. In the absence of convictions, however, there is a risk that the dismissed police officers could be re-hired or simply join the ranks of organized crime.