Washington, D.C.–The appointment of a former military general as director of the National Civilian Police (PNC) of El Salvador violates the spirit of the Peace Accords, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). In the last two years, PNC leaders have shown a strong commitment to strengthening the police and promoting a preventive approach. WOLA experts’ concern has nothing to do with General Francisco Salinas as an individual. What worries WOLA is that for the second time during this administration, a retired military officer has been put in charge of one of the country’s public security institutions.
“This appointment could represent a shift in focus toward measures that favor repressive actions and greater involvement of the military in public security tasks instead of promoting the preventive and comprehensive strategy that is needed to address the country’s security situation, as President Funes announced at the start of his presidency,” said Adriana Beltrán, Senior Associate for Citizen Security at WOLA. “The decision to appoint a career military officer to command the police represents a violation of the spirit of the Peace Accords, which established a clear distinction between the roles of the military and police and excluded the military from public safety tasks, except for states of emergency.”
According to a recent WOLA report, the use of military to combat crime is not effective and does not diminish violence. Effectively addressing insecurity and violence requires a comprehensive security policy. It takes a strong investment in social prevention programs at the community level to address the causes that lead to violence, as well as the professionalization of the police, the justice system, and other institutions responsible for law enforcement.
In the past two years, important steps have been taken to strengthen the PNC, particularly measures to tackle police corruption, improve criminal investigation units and incorporate a preventive vision in police functions. “The country’s recent history has shown that crime and violence are not successfully tackled with short-term policies or heavy-handed repression that do not address the root causes of the problem,” said Beltrán.
“There must be a comprehensive strategy in order to successfully meet citizens’ legitimate demands for safety. This involves the smart use of police at the community level and effective criminal investigation,” said Beltrán. A comprehensive strategy also needs to strengthen the justice system and focus on violence prevention and job creation at the community level. “The army’s constitutional role is completely different from these tasks,” Beltrán concluded.