El Salvador police are abandoning the National Civil Police (PNC) in record numbers amid rising confrontations with gangs and complaints officers' families are being threatened.
The PNC lost a total of 516 officers in 2015, up 49 percent from the year prior. The increase was mainly driven by 358 police resignations, La Prensa Gráfica reported, citing the police information office OIR.
Officers have been leaving the PNC in increasing numbers, with 802 police quitting their jobs in the last three years.
Since the 2014 collapse of El Salvador's controversial gang truce, the nation has seen a rise in violence, culminating with El Salvador's recent designation as the bloodiest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Amid this violence, gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 have not only been competing with each other but also confronting and targeting security forces and El Salvador has seen a huge jump in police killings.
"Police are afraid, we're human and have fear. This fear has translated into many leaving the police force," police organizer Marvin Reyes said during a march for better pay and conditions.
Violence against police is a concern even when they're off duty. Between November and mid-January 69 officers applied for government funds to change their residencies after gangs threatened them and their families, La Prensa Gráfica reported.
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Given El Salvador's dire security situation it's no surprise that police are leaving the PNC in record numbers. What remains to be seen is how the government will respond, given its limited options.
Despite their increasingly dangerous job, PNC officers begin with a starting monthly salary of $424, according to Enfoque Jurídico. Better compensation seems an obvious solution to police resignations and recent protests. However it is unclear whether El Salvador could afford to better pay its officers. The nation is still debating the passage of a new tax to fund its Secure El Salvador security initiative.
El Salvador also uses its military to aid the police in public security and if PNC officers go on strike, as some have threatened, the government may have to rely even more on the military. However many of the soldiers who are being deployed -- and earn even less than their police counterparts -- are already chaffing under the dangerous demands of their new job.