Why Is El Salvador Police Chief Downplaying Homicide Spike?

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El Salvador’s police chief has denied the country’s murder rate is rising and accused the media of misleading reporting, raising questions as to why he is downplaying the homicide spike that has accompanied the weakening of the country’s gang truce.

The director of El Salvador’s National Police (PNC), Rigoberto Pleites, said in a press conference on January 26 that the homicide rate had not increased during January, compared to the same month last year, reported El Mundo. “It is not true that there has been an increase in violence levels for the month of January,” said Pleites.

He said media reports had created a “false increase” in crime.

Pleites recognized that there had been 28 more murders thus far in January 2014 than in the same period in 2013, with 199 (a daily average of 7.7), compared to 171 (a daily average of 6.6). However, he said this increase was insignificant and that five massacres during the month had made the numbers misleadingly high, reported El Diario de Hoy.

Overall, murder rates have not shown an upward trend in the past six months, he said, detailing how daily murder averages had risen and fallen throughout the period, reported El Mundo.

Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo, meanwhile, confirmed homicides had risen in January, attributing this to combat and infighting among the country’s street gangs and to people looking to affect the outcome of the presidential elections that will take place February 2.

InSight Crime Analysis

The rhetoric from El Salvador’s police chief is itself misleading. While daily averages may have fluctuated in past months, by official counts there has been a clear spike in homicides since last summer compared to the same period the year before. According to forensics institute, known as Medicina Legal, in December 2013, there were 208 murders compared to 168 in that month in 2012. In November, there were 256 murders compared to 177 in November 2012, while in October, police reported 205 homicides compared with 165 a year earlier.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Despite this rise, 2013 finished with a total of 2,492 murders, 100 less than in 2012, largely thanks to homicide rates remaining low in the first part of the year — through May 2013, there were 550 fewer murders when compared to the same period in 2012. This drop has been largely attributed to the gang truce signed between the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gangs in March 2012, which since last May appears to be weakening.

The motivation behind Pleites’ remarks is unclear. They may have been an attempt to alleviate security concerns among the population in the run-up to the elections, but this would be odd, given that previous statements by police have augmented concerns over the gangs. In December, one officer claimed the gangs had mutated and become more deeply involved in drug trafficking during the truce.

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