By Abigail Hernández López for Infosurhoy.com
MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua’s police force has a strong ally: the community.
Nicaragua’s efficiency in fighting crime is well known in the region. The country has reduced its per capita crime rate, including its homicide rate to 12.5 for every 100,000 residents, the second-lowest rate in Central America behind Costa Rica (10.9), according to the United Nations report “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean: A Threat Assessment.”
It’s an important achievement considering the homicide rates in Honduras (92), El Salvador (69) and Guatemala (39) are much higher.
Nicaragua is home to 3.7% of all the homicides in the region, far behind Honduras (29%), Guatemala (27.7%) and El Salvador (18.6%), according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
In 2009, Nicaragua had 14 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, according to the UNDP.
Nicaragua has 13,000 police officers for a population of about 5.8 million, distributed throughout a territory of 130,370 square kilometers (50,336 square miles), equaling 224 police officers for every 100,000 inhabitants.
“This is a reality that is slowly changing because each year marks the graduation of 1,500 new police officers whose work will focus on the implementation and reproduction of the ‘preventive, proactive and community’ policing model, which is the institution’s main strength,” said Maj. Commissioner Javier Dávila, the director of the Walter Mendoza Police Academy.
In addition to the 1,500 officers who will join the Nicaraguan police force at the end of 2012, the country will also reintroduce 200 at-risk adolescents between the ages of 16 and 21 into society, keeping them away from gangs and criminal organizations.
These young people have been prepared to re-enter society by the Juventud center, an educational and training institution for at-risk youth managed by the Nicaraguan police. It provides job training in fields such as baking, tailoring, mechanics, beauty, crafts and electrician services, as well as high school equivalency courses.
Upon graduating from the Juventud center, they work as monitors for other at-risk youth, along with 10,000 young volunteers.
Nicaragua’s policing model, which was adopted in 1979, was born at the end of the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza (1967-1979) and the disappearance of the National Guard, which had exercised the powers of both a police force and army.
Since then, the police have formulated a strategy of community-based crime prevention that is divided into three subsystems: police, society and state.
Francisco Díaz, the deputy director of the National Police, said crime is more of a social issue than a police issue, adding the actions of individual officers are not enough to improve public safety.
“The police work must be complemented with the two other major components: social prevention and the state,” he said. “Cracking down on society isn’t the answer. The key is enhancing the social fabric of communities, and that’s our focus.”
Díaz said the strong bond among the National Police, community and public and private institutions is responsible for the reduction in crime.
Currently, there are about 111,000 volunteers throughout the country who work with the National Police through the Promotoría Solidaria (Solidarity Action) initiative. This includes 25,000 members of the Committee for the Social Prevention of Crime, who inform the police about suspicious activities in their communities and also act as social educators.
In addition, 76,000 take part in Citizen Power Cabinets, citizen organizations that promote the participation of society in community development issues, such as sports and entertainment activities for young people, community health and clean-up days.
In rural areas, 1,300 members of the District Committees, 14,000 volunteer police officers and 4,000 volunteers who work to prevent domestic violence support the police.
“This community action plan has given strength and security to young people,” said Inés Espinoza, a 50-year-old community leader with 12 years of experience in the field. “When they are safe and secure, they have more opportunities to achieve their goals, such as getting an education.”
Nicaraguans rank the National Police as the third-most-trusted institution in the country, with the approval of 73.2% of the respondents, trailing behind the Army (86.1%) and media (75.4%), according to the latest survey by M&R Consultores.
“The success of this model is a responsibility shared by all Nicaraguan families, the entire country and its institutions. The credit does not belong to National Police alone, but to the entire system,” Díaz said. “That’s why we’ve achieved these results, and we have to continue strengthening this model based on individuals, families and communities.”