Friday, May 17, 2013

B.C. police help solve violent gang crime in Guatemala

Vancouver Sun
When Guatemalan prosecutor Allan Stowlinsky was kidnapped, murdered and decapitated two years ago, police there used investigative techniques learned from B.C. cops to catch his killers.
They seized cell phones and blackberries from suspects in the notorious Zetas gang and managed to extract a video of Stowlinsky being dismembered.
That led to a successful prosecution last year of nine gang members in the case, who had left parts of Stowlinsky’s body in black plastic bags outside government offices. His head was found in another bag at an outdoor market.
Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is in B.C. this week to highlight the successes of a special program where the Justice Education Society of B.C. and the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit have worked with police in the gang-ravaged Central American country.
The 13-year old exchange has had B.C. cops travel to Guatemala to instruct their counterparts in evidence gathering, crime scene preservation, major case management and specialized techniques like forensic video analysis, wiretap and surveillance.
And the improved techniques have led to evidence that is being recognized by Guatemalan courts, Paz y Paz said in Surrey Thursday.
“Yes, it is being recognized by the courts,” she said. “Forensic video analysis and wiretapping – we have had several examples with high profile cases where those have been instrumental.”
After a 36-year long civil war ended in Guatemala in 1996, there was virtually no public confidence in the judicial system where 95 percent of cases went unsolved.
The JES got involved in 2000 by working with prosecutors, police and the judiciary to improve their ability to bring violent predators to justice.
“This is a daunting task given the explosive growth of organized crime in the country over this past 13 years,” JES executive director Rick Craig said Thursday.
The work of the B.C. non-profit in Central America is featured in a new documentary called The Most Violent Place on Earth, an excerpt of which was shown Thursday as the CFSEU was presented with an award for its role in the program
The films highlights the success of the Stowlinsky prosecution and how important it was to show the Zetas and other gangs they can be held to account.
“We sent two messages: one for the Zetas to let them know that we were not afraidand that we were going after them, and one for the people who nwork with us to tell them that these types of cases were not going to be left unsolved,” Guatemalan Secretary General Mynor Melgar said.
Paz y Paz said prosecutors and police are still targeted by organized crime and must take extraordinary precautions.
“Our first thought is to watch out for the safety of the prosecutors who were carrying out their dangerous work,” she said.
International relationships, like that her department has with B.C. agencies are “really our best guarantee for our safety.”
CFSEU acting Insp. Peter Jadis has travelled to Guatemala twice to give courses for police there.
He said it is gratifying to see the work paying off in improved prosecution rates.
“There is no better reward for our people and our organization to learn that the efforts being put forward as part of this initiative are having the desired effect and making a difference in Guatemala and the surrounding region,” Jadis said.
“It is very brutal down there. We take our safety for granted up here.”

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