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Column 051412 Brewer

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Misunderstood Past and Future of Policing in the Americas

By Jerry Brewer

In the history of traditional policing, it is hard to fathom that the need to evolve into paramilitary strategies and war-like engagement would become necessary.  Regardless of public opinion and other pundit conjecture on policing methodology, the rule of law must prevail within a homeland to safeguard human life and property, and provide a harmonious quality of life.

Latin American nations, especially Mexico, had a sobering wakeup call and faced the truth that their historic policing infrastructures were no match for domestic and transnational criminals and drug insurgents, who murder with impunity while brandishing weapons that inflict mass casualties. Mexican police have faced grenades, grenade launchers, military-type AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, body armor, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Mexico's police were essentially run out of Nuevo Laredo in 2005, as police chiefs, city and state officials, and others were kidnapped and murdered, plus some bodies were found decapitated.

U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector, along the Mexican border, were fired upon routinely and witnessed sophisticated movement and concealment military strategies across the border as criminals stalked U.S. enforcement officials.

Too, in Webb County (Laredo, Texas), sheriff's officials on surveillance near the border witnessed groups of men lined up four to five abreast, dressed in camouflaged clothing with military-style haircuts and carrying weapons, cross over into the U.S. The deputies quickly realized they were outmanned and outgunned at that moment.

It wasn't long before many Mexican states would learn that local policing, as well as numerous federal policing initiatives, were no match against these organized criminals.  Police, as well as the military, were routinely engaged head-on, ambushed and killed.  The reign of terror continued with the murder of journalists and innocents and virtually anyone that challenged or opposed the barbaric offenders in any way.

Many of the northern cone nations of Central American became the next victims, as heavily armed transnational criminals began to take control of towns, and also kill with impunity. Murder rates rose to some of the highest in the world.

Let's face the facts and realities -- traditional policing and related local law enforcement entities, whether in Mexico, the U.S., or elsewhere, were never designed, resourced and/or deployed to confront the paramilitary-like armaments, tactical strategies and espionage-like tradecraft and surveillance used by many of the transnational organized crime groups.

Mexico alone has experienced over 50,000 killed in the violence, whereas by comparison the U.S. lost around 58,000 soldiers in the Viet Nam war. And the numbers are mounting in Central America.

In better understanding the evolvement of traditional policing, take Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) who was a British Conservative statesman and served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. While serving as Home Secretary, Peel helped create the modern concept of the police force. In 1829, Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force for London based at Scotland Yard.  His philosophy was an ethical police force that would "assure accountability -- and their effectiveness would be measured not by the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime." Peel's most often quoted principle: "The police are the public and the public are the police."

U.S. policing has tried to mimic much of that model for decades with their basic mission to prevent crime and disorder. To those of us who have been tasked in leading and administering police organizations, we have learned that the ability of the police to successfully perform their duties is largely dependent upon the public approval of police actions. Hence, police administrators in the U.S. are also closely scrutinized politically by the local jurisdictional governments. Police efficiency tends to be solely judged by the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Many Latin American law enforcement organizations find it virtually impossible to secure the willing cooperation of the public (in some cases because people fear that the police and the criminals are one in the same).  In Mexico, there are those citizens who want the enforcement methods against the drug traffickers to stop.  Along with this rationale comes the ludicrous assumption that the legalization/decriminalization of drugs will stop the violence.

A careful examination of violent crime resulting in murder throughout Mexico and Central America clearly shows lawlessness and a complete disregard for human life.  The rule of law is a rare commodity as murder for hire, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, oil thefts, human and sex trafficking, and other crimes run rampant. Drug use and addiction continues to mount in Brazil and Argentina, and drug trafficking remains lucrative for the traditional narcotraffickers and their henchmen.

Profound policing changes from one stage to the next will continue to occur in Latin America.  Mexico faces elections this year that will determine the military's immediate future in fighting crime -- as an alternative is studied and considered to design and prepare a replacement enforcement deployment.  However, a lesser armed and trained police cadre may not have much of a chance to mature.

As well, the U.S. must come to grips with policing style and actions insofar as these paramilitary-type insurgents and criminal gang members have paved their way into over 230 cities north of the border.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at http://www.cjiausa.org/.

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