Nearly one hundred members of Peru's national police are under investigation for their alleged participation in a series of extrajudicial killings, illustrating the dangers of inculcating and rewarding violence within police forces.
On July 31, the investigative television news show Cuarto Poder broadcast an interview with an anonymous source who accused police commander Enrique Prado Ravines of leading a series of illegal operations that killed more than 20 people between 2011 and 2015.
When asked by Cuarto Poder about the allegations, Prado Ravines said he did not have permission to comment. His lawyer, however, told the television program, "It's absurd, it's false, it's not the truth, it's not true."
Local media outlets have reported that the Attorney General's Office and the Inspector General of the police are investigating 96 members of the force -- 16 officers and 80 sub-officers -- in connection with the alleged crimes. The reports indicate that Prado Ravines is believed to have directed six operations that resulted in the deaths of 27 suspected criminals.
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Cuarto Poder's source said that officers identified the victims based on tips provided by informants, and then ambushed and executed them, altering physical evidence and coordinating their testimony to make it appear as though the killings were justified.
The operations were reportedly paid for with funds from the police intelligence budget. Those who participated in the executions were allegedly rewarded with financial compensation and promotions.
In comments reported by El Comercio, Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío expressed shock at the revelations and vowed to investigate them thoroughly.
"They are killing criminals in order to benefit economically and professionally, to be clear. The accusation is extremely serious," Basombrío said. "This cannot be taken lightly. The police deserves respect and we are going to investigate these serious reported irregularities."
Basombrío said that he had formed a special investigative commission to look into the allegations. He indicated that the group would produce a report within the next two weeks.
InSight Crime Analysis
Beyond the alleged extrajudicial killings, what's worrying about this case is the possibility that police were rewarded for their actions with money and professional advancement. Such a scenario portrays a system that incentivizes police to kill criminals, rather than carry out arrests and protect the general public. Unfortunately, this would not be a unique case in Latin America.
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In El Salvador, for instance, authorities have taken to using war-like rhetoric in instructing the security forces to combat the country's powerful street gangs. Last year, a police chief told his officers to use their weapons with "complete confidence" when taking aim at criminals. The combative tone has translated into a huge number of police-gang confrontations, which have resulted in the death of over 300 alleged gang members in this year alone.
Military troops in Colombia, meanwhile, were allegedly praised for their "good work" in killing farmers and dressing them up as if they were guerrillas. Army brigades killed as many as 3,000 civilians in this manner between 2002 and 2008, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, in cases that would become known as "false positives."