Research on police issues in Latin America

In Latin America, despite more than two decades of public and political concern about crime, government responses are far from effective and the police is still part of the problem.

LDammertLucía Dammert is Associate Professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile, with more than 15 years of experience on crime and violence research in Latin America.  She has published books and papers in academic journals and is an International Ambassador to the British Society of Criminology.

 

Crime and violence in Latin America are problems with serious consequences. Not only are the highest homicide rates in the world located in this region, but also street crime affects most Latin Americans on a daily basis. Despite more than two decades of public and political concern about this situation, government responses are far from effective.

The police is still part of the problem. In most countries, police institutions are slowly acquiring information systems that allow them to better understand the problem they are facing. While some promising cases of hot spot patrol programs have been implemented, their results are localized. Moreover, criminological research on police is recent and focus mostly on specific issues such as the use of violence, corruption, and institutional reform initiatives.

Contrary to the broad development of research on police issues, for instance at the BSC, in Latin America police information is still opaque limiting the possibility of conducting studies. Lack of trust between researchers and governments have narrowed research possibilities and the importance of security issues in electoral processes have built a “Chinese wall” for any project that could portray challenges or difficulties of police work.

In this context, and to further contribute to the field, I have conducted two research projects related to police actions in Peru during 2018. Results are currently under review for publication. The first project analyzes the processes of policy diffusion, specifically community policing. Through a participant observation process in 20 police precincts in Lima and more than 80 interviews with members of the police and experts in the field, I was able to analyze Peruvian community policing. Although the police declare that community policing is implemented because it has been proven to be a “best practice” in most northern police institutions, there are important discrepancies in the field. In that sense the research not only broadens knowledge on policy diffusion processes but also sheds light on police adoption and adaptation of internationally approved initiatives. Diffusion brings confusion when there is little opportunity to monitor and evaluate how policing strategies are developed in the field.

The second research project focuses on the concept of street-level bureaucracy and analyzes the gap between the regulatory frameworks of the Peruvian government on gender violence and police action when women report situations of violence or abuse. The fieldwork was done in the city of Lima and shows that discretionary powers of street-level police officers redefine public policy and, far from protecting the victim, confronts it with limited budget for infrastructural investments, modernization of training capabilities and old fashioned management practices. Furthermore, police personnel generally face short term education programs that are not enhanced with regular training programs. Based on qualitative data gathered during two months of participant observation in special offices dedicated to “family issues” at police precincts, the results showed that discretionary power of police officers could erode national legal frameworks and public policy initiatives. Also, the research showed that there is limited social protection networks available to protect women (and their children) and that police response is important to avoid the revictimization of women.

The importance of the academic literature and the debates that take place in the BSC are an opportunity to advance the knowledge of multiple issues that have been explored insufficiently in Latin America. This is not only fundamental to confirm theoretical proposals that have been developed in the north, but also to propose new perspectives that will shape southern criminology.

Contact

Lucía Dammert, University of Santiago, Chile

Email: lucia.dammert@usach.cl

Twitter: @lucia.dammert

Linkedin: Lucia Dammert

 

Copyright free image: from Flickr