August 20, 2014
On the beat II
Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli’s gubernatorial resolution last week to break the legislative deadlock over the creation of municipal police in the province (the subject of Monday’s editorial) has now become a formal decree fleshing out various details and this warrants a new editorial. This decree is not the muscular assertion of executive authority over fractious politicians it might seem. Firstly, Scioli has resolved the battle for control over the new force between different lawmakers and his provincial Security Minister Alejandro Granados (an important factor behind the legislative deadlock) almost entirely in favour of the latter and this is already alarming, given the rightwing Peronist’s dubious track record as mayor of Ezeiza when he virtually advocated vigilante methods by personal example. Secondly, Scioli has sought to achieve the consensus the legislative branch could not reach by accommodating Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front on various points and in so doing, he is running behind a demagogic clamour for tough law and order methods against crime rather than showing any genuine leadership.
Among those points, perhaps the most worrying is the risky initiative of authorizing them to keep their weapons off duty. And this warning is issued not only out of concern for the citizenry at large, given the countless victims of trigger-happy police over the years, but for the new officers themselves. If carrying a gun off duty, the conscientious officer will feel professionally obliged to use it in certain situations where it could have tragic consequences for himself and others — for example, on a train or bus or in some crowded place or when he is outnumbered by a gang. But aside from such specific situations, we insist that the big concern has to be for the general public, given the trigger-happy methods of which the Buenos Aires provincial police have been perhaps the worst exponents — off-duty as much as on the beat. Hardly the intention of the decree but this new clause creates the potential basis for Brazilian-style police death squads.
The regulation of the municipal police cannot just be the decision of a governor preparing his presidential candidacy for next year with the likes of Granados in charge of the process — the dire record of the Buenos Aires provincial Police demands much stricter criteria when taking policing down to the most local level. Otherwise the potential contamination of that record could create neighbourhood cells of a provincial police mafia which feeds crime as much as fights it.