Investigation of crimes came to a screeching halt Tuesday in Honduras, as Security and Defense Minister Arturo Corrales ordered the suspension of all 2,200 members (approximately 1,400 police and 800 employees) of the Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal (DNIC). Minister Corrales further ordered that organizationally the DNIC should be merged with the Dirección Nacional de Servicios Especiales de Investigación (DNSEI). He is calling the merged group, the Fuerza de Tarea Policial de Investigacion (FTPI) which loosely translates as “Police Investigation Working Group”.
This is basically a take-over of the resources, personnel, and equipment of the DNIC by the DNSEI whose head is now in charge of the merged organization. It is a further step toward militarization of civilian policing, which began with the centralization of military and police under Mr. Corrales. On Thursday, DNSEI personnel examined the offices and equipment of the closed DNIC offices and made plans for their use. Members of the ordinary police arrived at DNIC facilities across the country and escorted all employees from the building and padlocked them.
Citizens are now supposed to report crimes to this new working group, but Mr. Corrales forgot to order the dissemination of that information to the public, or tell them the new locations to do so. Mr. Corrales explained his action as derived from the fact that the DNIC was leaking information to organized crime. All 2,200 employees, country-wide, are suspended until they have submitted to, and passed, the police confidence tests. Not that those tests have been ordered or scheduled.
The result was that DNIC police and employees staged public rallies Wednesday and Thursday asking to return to work while they wait for their confidence tests to be scheduled. They issued a public statement applauding the decision to ask them to submit to the confidence tests but asked that their rights be preserved, including the right to an assumption of innocence. They called the current plan “improvised” and said that criminals currently held will go free because of the lack of investigation. They further suggested that Mr. Corrales should have created a schedule for their testing and allowed them to continue working until the tests can be done rather than suspending all of them, “denying justice to Hondurans”.
On Thursday, several hundred of the protesters took over the former DNIC offices by force, throwing out the DNSEI officers who were there including the man who nominally is their new boss, Alex Villanueva Meza, the head of the FTPI. A lawyer for the officers arbitrarily dismissed began legal action to get them reinstated because their suspension violated their rights to due process and presumption of innocence.
A sargent with 26 years of experience in the DNIC said: “Our families feel bad; they [the government] consider us a bunch of criminals; they should give us the confidence tests and those that they have to fire, they should fire.. The objective [here] is to mark us as criminals without paying us a lempira of the funds they legally have to and go back to the 1980s, fire the police to put the military in our place.“
In Honduras, the reference to the 1980s would resonate: this was the last time that civilian policing was linked to the military. (6/10/13) (photo of DNIC police officer courtesy El Heraldo)
Note: This article was originally published by Honduras Culture and Politics.