OAS ambassador gives interview to the HeraldMonday, February 24, 2014
'Cleaning up police forces is essential'
Garré: Security Ministry must focus on transparency, human rights, and the misuse of power
Eight months have passed since Nilda Ga-rré was transferred from the Security Ministry to a diplomatic post as ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). Although she is no longer part of the office she led for two and a half years, her voice is key as she denounced widely spread corrupt traditions in federal security forces and spearheaded reforms to bring police under control. In an interview with the Herald last week, the ambassador reflected on her time in the ministry and expressed hopes that the new authorities keep persuing changes.
The cleaning up of the police forces is essential to ensuring democracy. What are the main challenges the Security Ministry now faces?
We need coordination between the Attorney General’s Office, judicial authorities, and police forces to be efficient. In many cases, someone is arrested but the investigation is faulty or information is missing. Argentina exhibits a high degree of impunity because of this. We also need to improve living conditions for the poor; we need to improve access to education in order to integrate the poor into the work force and avoid drug traffickers using them as cheap labour. Crack is a very serious problem; it is very destructive. With education and jobs we will always have the tools to prevent people from getting into crime.
How has the government’s security policy continued since you left?
I can’t make a precise judgment about it since I’m outside of the country, but I think they are following the president’s main objectives: the political control of security forces, transparency and training policies, community participation with police forces, and its technological modernization which is almost 100 percent finished. Several smaller things still remain to be done. We had focused on three basic areas: transparency, human rights, and the misuse of power. I hope the succeeding Security Ministry puts the same emphasize on this.
What was the most important or influential policy you implemented when you were Security minister?
I can’t single out just one, because it was a multi-faceted project. But the judicial institutional reforms, training programmes and implementation of a policy of transparency were very important. The “Buenos Aires Ciudad Segura” programme, for example, was a programme which the Federal Police praised as the most important in terms of improving the technological and scientific capabilities of the security forces. This gave police patrol vehicles exterior and interior cameras, as well as computer tablets vital for patrolling. The tablets, for example, alerts them to stolen cars. When they scan a license plate the tablet sounds an alarm if the vehicle is found in the database of stolen cars. In the first year this was tested out, 750 cars were recovered and 42 people arrested. Another aspect was the installation of 1,200 cameras in the Buenos aires City area. This allowed police officers to act rapidly and efficiently.
One of your key programmes was the Cinturón Sur (South Belt) security project that introduced new security forces to the southern part of Greater Buenos Aires with the aim of cutting back crime there. What were its results?
This was an area with the highest level of crime, and unfortunately the police could not handle it and many weren’t even present. Many zones had no security presence or were controlled by drug traffickers who had small drug labs. In Cinturón Sur we reinforced these areas, and thought it was important to put in new people, ensuring there weren’t any connections between criminal groups and police. The residents were happy, we received many comments praising the military and borderguards who were introduced into the zone. None of the residents accused them of corruption. Crime went down. However, we need to continue improving.
Is the citizen participation element of the Cinturón programme being copied in other parts of Argentina?
I don’t think so, at least not significantly. This should be a national policy. Criminal experts around the world say citizen participation is fundamental and should be a top priority. Thousands of eyes are much better, because there are very few police in comparison.
How has the current Security Ministry handled cases of corruption and human rights violations by the Federal Police?
Well, I don’t have the necessary information. But in our administration we retired many officers and NCOs. Regrettably, the Federal Police was the most accused squad. We had a 0800 number so reports could be made anonymously. Sometimes the accusations don’t always involve crimes, sometimes it’s the absence of police forces. To tell you the truth, the amount of reports overwhelmed our organization a bit, with many accusations investigated from the start to end, despite beginning with little evidence.
In September 2012 you charged 20 Federal Police officials suspected of corruption. What came of them?
I’m not sure how these cases ended up. We reported many people for corruption and many were very serious cases. One specific case involved sexual abuse. Two 14-year-old and 16-year-old minors were sexually assaulted, and one was impregnated by a group of police officers. We were able to identify the majority of the officers. In many cases, honest officers are key to revealing these crimes, like in this case. There are many honest police, and this is a huge help.
How has the government fought corruption given the many investigations in Córdoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires provinces into police involvement in drug trafficking?
Well, this is the responsibility of each respective province. But we have done a lot of police training to help them improve their efficiency in criminal investigation. In one of the courses that was given, we learned that judges had received many complaints about erroneous or incomplete police reports.
In Rosario, for example, we talked with the province over the increasing number of murders, which they claimed were just gang fights — a phenomenon we insist leads to more violence. That two groups are fighting over government-owned territory is serious , especially with police facilitating it.
What are your thoughts about the widespread police protests that led to looting throughout the country last December?
It was very strange for everybody. The police turned into armed gangs, giving some people a green light to commit crimes. The police are given arms to defend, so they can’t in any way abandon their duties — this was completely unacceptable. What’s worse is some were in cahoots with the gangs, pinpointing specific shops or areas. This issue needs to be an absolute priority for the government. They need to clean up security forces, prosecute the crimes, and guarantee safety and security.
Did the pressure generated by these protests lead the government to become hesitant and backtrack on further police corruption investigations?
On the contrary. You can have corrupt police but if you have rebellious police, that’s serious — a serious crime that thousands of police comitted. The conditions were already there, and evidently the investigations that were taking place into police from Rosario and Córdoba at the time, now have to extend to other provinces. Those investigations had led to the arrest and resignation of some policemen. But many were were then reinstated into the forces, and some provoked these crimes. Political authorities cannot delay the job they have in front of them. They have to guarantee that the police are effective against crime.
How would you assess your time as Security Secretary?
One can’t evaluate oneself. But in terms of human resources the truth is I was very proud of the group we had, with their experience, committment, and hard work. They worked long hours with enthusiasm. Some of the centrepieces of our project still exist like “Buenos Aires Ciudad Segura,” and the improvements in technology. We see the results as being very satisfactory.