By Malcom Alvarez-James
August 22nd, 2014 (Diálogo) Seizures by Nicaraguan National Police of nearly 20,000 illegal firearms during a recent five year span have been a key factor in reducing the homicide rate in the country, authorities said.
Nicaraguan security forces seized more than 19,000 weapons between 2008 and 2013, according to El Nuevo Diario – including illegal pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, and grenades.
In 2013 alone, Nicaraguan security forces seized 5,500 illegal weapons.
The seizures of illegal firearms helped bring down the level of deadly violence in Nicaragua in 2013.
The country had a homicide rate of 11 killings per 100,000 residents in 2012. That rate dropped to 8.7 killings per 100,000 residents in 2013.
Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America as measured by homicide rates, assault victim rates and the authority and influence of national police forces, according to a 2013-2014 Human Development Regional Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Increased seizures of illegal firearms is not the only reason the rate of violence decreased. Under the leadership of Aminta Granera, director of the Nicaraguan National Police, the police department is emphasizing “community policing” methods, in which police officers interact closely with local neighborhoods.
Expanded police presence in neighborhoods has reduced illegal activity by gangs. By spending time in neighborhoods,
Nicaraguan police also become closer to the civilian population, earning the trust of law-abiding people who can provide information that helps authorities fight crime. Nicaragua has 13,000 police officers for a population of about 5.8 million people.
Each year, authorities add about 1,500 new police officers to the ranks of the National Police.
Fighting gun violence
Seizing illegal firearms is an important component in the fight against crime because many criminals in Nicaragua use guns to commit their offenses, said Monica Zalaquett, director of the Center for Violence Prevention in Managua.
In Nicaragua “there are a lot of crimes of robberies in which firearms . . . are generally used and there are many young people with signs of bullet injuries,” Zalaquett said.
Nicaraguan police have demonstrated their effectiveness by seizing high numbers of weapons, said Sandino Asturias, director of the Center for Guatemalan Studies (CEG) in Guatemala.
“The seizure of these weapons shows the professionalism of the police and the country’s (criminal justice) institutions,” Asturias said. “Safety programs in Nicaragua are comprehensive.”
Police in Nicaragua are “efficient” in their efforts to dismantle drug trafficking organizations and confronting weapons smugglers, the security analyst said.
There is no major Nicaraguan transnational criminal organization. Two Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, operate in Nicaragua, transporting drugs through the country, often along Atlantic coastal regions. A Colombian drug trafficking group, the Norte del Valle Cartel, also operates in the country.