The Dominican Republic’s new president has put police reform at the top of his security priorities, marking just the latest effort to fight the official corruption that has long facilitated international drug shipments passing through the country.
Luis Abinader, of the Modern Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Moderno), officially became president of the Caribbean nation on August 16 and quickly proclaimed that police reform would be a central focus of his administration.
On the day after he took office, Abinader appointed Edward Sánchez González as the new national police chief. Sánchez González was previously the director of the country's police training school and is an experienced criminal investigator, according to local media reports.
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“We will undertake a comprehensive reform of the National Police that promotes changes in the institutional culture, the professionalization and modernization of the service, improves the working conditions of our agents and makes police services more efficient,” Abinader said on August 16.
Abinader added that his government would not tolerate corruption anymore.
“I want to be very clear, precise, and forceful about this. In the government we start today, it will not be allowed, under any circumstances, for the corruption of the past to go unpunished,” the president said.
InSight Crime Analysis
An overhaul of the Dominican Republic’s police force would be a welcome step in a country where corrupt security forces have long hindered the fight against organized crime groups.
Last year, Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean found that police were one of the most corrupt institutions in the region. In the Dominican Republic, 47 percent of people that had contact with police in the last year had to pay a bribe. Only Mexico and Venezuela -- which have notorious histories of abusive and corrupt security forces -- saw higher instances of bribery.
In addition, a 2019 country report on the Dominican Republic from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) said that almost 62 percent of Dominicans felt the police were involved in criminal activity, almost double the percentage of people (32.2 percent) who thought the police protected the population.
What’s more, Transparency International found that 72 percent of citizens felt the government was doing a poor job of combatting corruption, while 66 percent of people thought corruption had worsened in the last 12 months.
Meanwhile, organized crime groups have seized upon the opportunity to use corrupt police to their advantage.
Most recently, the drug trafficking group lead by the now-jailed César Emilio Peralta, alias “El Abusador” and known as the Dominican Republic’s “cocaine king,” relied on dirty police officers to safeguard the cocaine he moved out of Santo Domingo and into the United States and Europe.
Years earlier, in 2015, a top-level prosecutor in the country said that police and other corrupt security forces were involved in 90 percent of organized crime cases, including large-scale drug trafficking and contract killings.
Abinader is not the first president in the Dominican Republic to demand a major rehabilitation of the national police. The force underwent reforms in 2016, for example, but it remains to be seen if his early promises will translate into an institution that is actually equipped to thwart organized criminal activity.