|Martha Espinal: “I feel protected and my customers know... there won’t be a criminal waiting for them.”|
Using Japan’s Koban method, Tegucigalpa’s Flor del Campo neighborhood reduced its homicide rate by 49% between 2011 and 2012.
Report and photos by Kay Valle
TEGUCIGALPA – The Honduran National Police is undergoing a transformation.
As the country works to clean up its police force, the National Police announced on March 13 the police district in La Granja, one of the seven police districts in the nation’s capital of Tegucigalpa, would become a Community Police District.
“As Community Police, our goal is to strengthen ties with the population, listen to its problems and solve them together,” said Deputy Director of the Community Police Rolando Piura. “This allows the community to have a better quality of life through daily visits and patrols, with a strict adherence to human rights.”
The six other districts that make up the Tegucigalpa police division will continue to be staffed by the National Police.
The move occurred based on the positive results produced by the Community Police since 2009 in the La Granja’s Flor del Campo neighborhood in southern Tegucigalpa. In 2012, 18 homicides were reported in the neighborhood – a year after 35 were documented, according to Deputy Inspector Milton Fúnez Peralta, the district’s head of the Community Police in the district.
In 2012, Honduras registered 7,172 homicides, up from 7,104 in 2011, according to the Violence Observatory at the Instituto Universitario en Democracia, Paz y Seguridad (IUDPAS).
“Prior to the arrival of the Community Police, there was a serious crime problem here,” said Luis Alfonso Ávila, a Flor del Campo resident. “Now, the communication between us and the police makes all the difference.”
Martha Espinal, who has owned a business in Flor del Campo for the last 10 years, is enjoying living in a much more peaceful community.
“I feel protected and my customers know that when they come here to shop, there won’t be a criminal waiting for them when they leave,” she said as she served customers in her school supply store.
La Granja, which will serve as the central division, will have 170 police officers distributed among 10 stations. The stations are in the neighborhoods of Las Brisas, Nueva Esperanza, Las Torres, Flor del Campo, La Rosa, La Peña, La Alemán, Tiloarque, Reinel Fúnez and Tizatillo.
Police will cover 38 square kilometers and will serve 415,000 of the city’s 1.2 million residents of the city, Piura said
“The goal is to implement an autonomous community policing district that will not receive interference from the high command of the National Police in developing the program,” he added.
The Community Police model being applied in Honduras is based on the Koban method, which has been used for more than a century in Japan, which has more than 15,000 police outposts. Each unit is responsible for patrolling 2.5 square kilometers on foot, bike or patrol car.
In Honduras, police officers visited local residents and business owners to find out about their needs, collect information and leave their contact information.
“The communication between police officers and residents helps us solve the problems together and fosters confidence in the police force,” Fúnez said.
While the Koban method has been applied in Honduras since 2009, with support from the governments of Brazil and Japan, the authorities recently have been placing more emphasis on transforming the National Police into Community Police, which was a recommendation of the Public Safety Reform Commission of Honduras.
“The training [that we received in Brazil] consists of comparing the operations performed at the Community Police stations in São Paulo and in Tegucigalpa,” Fúnez said. “We are conducting workshops to provide police personnel with adequate training on the techniques for reaching out to the public and carrying out community projects.”
Seventy police officers from Honduras have been trained and 10 police officers are currently receiving training in São Paulo.
The program is evaluated annually. The most recent evaluation was carried out in January 2013 by the Lt. Col. Gilberto Tardochi da Silva, the deputy director of Community Police and Human Rights in São Paulo.
Tardochi da Silva said the program has shown a tremendous amount of progress, but officials need to address a lack of technological tools needed to create a digital database to file daily reports and surveys carried out by the police.
“The surveys allow us to determine the problems facing the community and the development projects that the residents need,” Fúnez said.
Recently, the Flor del Campo police post welcomed visiting police delegations from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic, which participated in the International Seminar on Community Policing in Tegucigalpa in November 2012.
“The purpose of the visit was to observe the effectiveness of applying the Koban method,” Fúnez said.
While other countries in Central America use community policing models, Brazil and Honduras are the only countries in Latin America that use the Koban method, he added.
“Without question it will lower the crime rate and result in police who are more committed to the population,” Fúnez said. “The teachings of the police force and the approximation to the population through the Koban method will prevent failed police operations.”