Due to the hundreds of officers who have left the Honduras police force over fears of the ongoing police purge, the agency is reportedly using law enforcement escorts, who typically accompany and protect top government officials, as a stand-in force.
Over 400 law enforcement escorts have been assigned back to regular police duty after Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla complained to the Security Ministry that the force did not have enough officers. According to national newspaper La Tribuna, some 400 police officers — who left over an unspecified period of time — have removed themselves from duty due to fears of a series of confidence tests they were expected to take as part of a police cleanup law.
After the government passed the cleanup law in June 2012, police began to implement a significant corruption purge involving drug examinations and a lie detector test, among other measures. As many as 100 officers were recommended for dismissal in October alone.
The reassigned escorts — who once provided security for President Porfirio Lobo, the head of the Supreme Court, the head of Congress, and the mayor of capital city Tegucigalpa — include 150 members of the police special forces, or Cobras, and 220 members of the Preventative Police, among others.
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Pulling officers from the security rings meant to protect Honduras’ top government officials highlights just how overstretched the police force is in terms of manpower. There are some 14,000 police officers in the country, but few have been properly vetted, and many are believed to have links to organized crime. Even Police Chief Bonilla has been accused of running a death squad in the early 2000s, prompting the US to withhold police aid to Honduras.
It is unlikely that using police escorts to fill the holes in the regular police force will be a long term solution: as La Tribuna points out, the measure is probably partly intended to increase police presence on the streets during the holiday season. The real question is whether Honduras will be able to continue to move forward with its police reform efforts following the recent declaration by the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court that the police cleanup law was unconstitutional, thanks to the lack of recourse for appeal for accused officers.
The case is now set to pass on to the Supreme Court who will vote on whether the purge is allowed to continue in its current form.
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