Many police in El Salvador are resigning and some are seeking asylum abroad, an indication of officers' dissatisfaction with poor working conditions as they continue to be called upon to combat the country's gangs.
According to the National Civil Police, at least 110 officers resigned from the force from January to June of this year. Several of those who resigned have applied for asylum in the United States and Canada, while others have opted to attempt the journey north without documentation, reported La Prensa Gráfica.
One police investigator, identified as Carlos S., told La Prensa Gráfica that he was applying for asylum for himself and his family at the Canadian embassy because he feared being targeted by gang members. It happened to one of his colleagues, José Adán Servellón, who was killed by gang members in June 2015 in front of his two children.
The officer also said a motivating factor behind many of his colleagues' decisions to leave the force was that the government was not allotting them the proper resources to both combat crime and to protect themselves and their families.
Carlos is not unique. Two of his fellow officers accompanied him to the Canadian embassy to ask for asylum. Still, many officers opt to migrate north without applying for asylum.
"I know of cases in which my colleagues have asked for permission for six months' leave," said Carlos. "They use this time to emigrate to the United States. Once there, they never return...It is better to clean bathrooms for some business in the United States than to constantly live in fear for your life here."
One former officer, identified only by his first name Roberto, brought his family to the United States without authorization, reported the Texas Tribune. In May 2015, Roberto sold everything he owned to pay smugglers the $12,000 dollars they charged for getting his family across the border. He came to this decision only after he reported to the Attorney General's Office in El Salvador that he feared for his security, and after twice being turned down for a visa by the United States.
"Sooner or later, they were going to take reprisals against my family. If they don't get the one they're after, they will kill his kids, kill his wife, his mother, his father, his brother, just anyone in his family to inflict pain," said Roberto.
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The fact that more than 100 officers have abandoned the force, and that many are seeking asylum abroad, provides an indication of the severity of the danger faced by police in El Salvador. Moreover, it appears that poor working conditions contribute to the sense among many officers that their jobs are not worth risking their lives. With a starting salary of only $425 dollars a month, many officers cannot afford to live in secure neighborhoods. They often live in the neighborhoods where they work, which can make them and their families easy targets for reprisals from gangs. In fact, La Prensa Gráfica reported that 32 officers have been killed in 2016, and 62 were murdered in 2015.
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However, it appears that the number of police resigning from their positions is declining compared to recent years. A record 358 officers resigned from the force in 2015. If trends from the first half of this year continue, by year's end somewhere around 200 officers will have resigned -- a figure that is more comparable to statistics from 2013, when 180 officers quit the force, and 2014, when 242 officers resigned.
The exact reasons for the apparent reversal in the trend of rising police resignations remain unclear. It may be partly due to a bonus program for officers announced earlier this year, or perhaps because those who never return after requesting leave are not counted in such statistics. However, it seems more likely that as overall violence in El Salvador decreases, and as the number of officers being killed drops, fewer police may be choosing to leave their positions.