An MS13 cell wired several Honduran neighborhoods on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula with surveillance cameras -- an inventive use of technology to perform an age-old gang function.
The monitoring system, consisting of nine cameras placed on store rooftops and electrical poles, was discovered in the city’s northern sector, police said in a news release. The cameras were connected to a router, allowing gang members to view the video streams on their tablets, phones and computers.
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The cameras were strategically placed to monitor “entrances and exits,” National Police spokesman Jair Meza told InSight Crime.
Parts of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-most populous city, have long been controlled by the Barrio 18 and MS13 street gangs, which run local drug and extortion rackets.
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Though this is not the first time authorities have discovered a video system controlled by the MS13, its routine use in several poor neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula is striking.
Video surveillance systems are common in wealthier areas of both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital, and have previously been found in the homes of gang leaders for private security purposes, Meza said.
But for the gang to have placed cameras in marginal neighborhoods shows that the system enhanced gang surveillance in some way beyond the usual modus operandi of positioning young members as watchmen.
The MS13, in fact, is believed to largely control the neighborhoods of Ocotillo, Suazo and El Merendón, where cameras were found. El Merendón is considered a sanctuary of the MS13's “Leeward Gangster” clique.
It is common for crime groups to adapt new technology to monitor authorities. In Mexico, for example, drones have been used to track patrols and traffic drugs on the US border.
The MS13 in Honduras has shown increased logistical capabilities of late. In February, the gang conducted a military-style operation to free one of its senior leaders, Alexander Mendoza, alias “El Porky," who escaped when heavily armed gunmen dressed in police fatigues stormed the courthouse where he awaited a hearing.
The creative use of the camera security systems is a sign that the gang is becoming more sophisticated in even its most basic function: territorial control.
Businesses were contracted to install the security equipment, Meza said. With it, the gang was able “to have total control to be able to carry out their illicit activities.”