HomeNewsChile Hands New Powers to Police as Security Deteriorates

Chile Hands New Powers to Police as Security Deteriorates


Chile has given police greater leeway to use force against criminal suspects, but this hasty response to a wave of deadly attacks on security forces is unlikely to tackle the roots of the country's security problems.

Several officers from Chile's national police force, the Carabineros, have been killed or injured in recent weeks. In the latest incident, three officers were shot on April 12 during a security operation in La Florida, southeast of the capital, Santiago.

Before this, three others were killed in separate incidents in 23 days, culminating with the death of Daniel Palma, who was murdered during a traffic stop in central Santiago on April 5.

SEE ALSO: Northern Chile Struggling to Contain Skyrocketing Homicide Rate

In response, the government has rushed through new anti-crime legislation known collectively as the Naín-Retamal laws. These rules stiffen penalties for those who commit crimes against the Carabineros and grant the police privileged self-defense rights. When Carabineros use their weapons in self-defense, the law will assume that they have done so "according to professional principals," said Interior Minister Carolina Tohá. However, investigations will be opened in suspicious cases.

"This [law] will allow us, together with other laws that have already been approved in the security agenda, to move forward with new tools to fight crime," Senate President Juan Antonio Coloma said in a press release.

In 2022, Chile saw a startling 32% rise in homicides, with many concentrated in its northern region amid the arrival of the Venezuelan gang, the Tren de Aragua.

InSight Crime Analysis

The new legislation is broadly popular, with a recent survey showing 79% of respondents approve of the Carabineros. This is up from November 2021, when accusations of police brutality in response to widespread social protests saw the approval rate plummet to 45%.

"The public's view has changed ... because we are no longer talking about social causes behind the demonstrations. We are talking about very violent crime that does not respect age, sex, disabilities, or vulnerabilities," Pilar Lizana, an investigator for the Chilean research center AthenaLab, told InSight Crime. 

There have been acute concerns about the consequences of essentially giving carte blanche to the police. Dissenting legislators dubbed the new legislation the "easy trigger law," while human rights groups have stated the changes give officers immunity when committing abuses. While supporting the law, even President Boric has called attention to a legacy of police brutality in Chile. 

But one expert doubted whether the law would make a difference. The law was passed too hastily, and its potential impact was toned down during the legislative process, according to Claudio González Guarda, director of the Center for Citizen Security Studies at the University of Chile.

"In practical terms, it's not much of a difference … it's symbolic," he said.

SEE ALSO: How Tren de Aragua Controls the Destiny of Migrants from Venezuela to Chile

Latin America provides cautionary tales about giving more power to the police. In Brazil, police have long been given massive leeway in countering criminality. Raids in favelas -- poorer communities near cities -- are often accompanied by excess force, for which few police officers are ever held responsible.

An infamous example of Brazilian police brutality came in 2021 when police raided the Jacarezinho neighborhood of Rio in pursuit of the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) and killed 25 people. That year, Brazilian police murdered citizens at nine times the rate of their US counterparts, according to the LA Times, citing the think-tank Brazilian Forum on Public Safety.

In 2022, Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for eight out of the ten countries with the worst levels of police killings in the world, according to World Population Review.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Haiti's security crisis is about to see another major evolution as gangs look to become the de facto authority in…


Latin American countries scored poorly on Transparency International’s latest corruption index, with the worst joining the ranks of war-torn nations…


The killing of four young people in Paraguay’s border city of Pedro Juan Caballero has led back to an imprisoned…

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime's Chemical Precursor Report continues to be a reference in the region

19 MAY 2023

For the second week in a row, our investigation into the flow of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been cited by multiple regional media…


InSight Crime’s Chemical Precursor Report Widely Cited


We are proud to see that our recently published investigation into the supply chain of chemical precursors feeding Mexico’s synthetic drug production has been warmly received.


InSight Crime’s Paraguay Election Coverage Draws Attention 

5 MAY 2023

InSight Crime looked at the various anti-organized crime policies proposed by the candidates in Paraguay’s presidential election, which was won on April 30 by Santiago Peña. Our pre-election coverage was cited…


InSight Crime Cited in OAS, CARICOM Reports

28 APR 2023

This week, InSight Crime’s work was cited nine times in a new report by the Organization of American States (OAS) titled “The Impact of Organized Crime on Women,…


InSight Crime Staff Cited as Experts by International Media

21 APR 2023

This week, InSight Crime deputy editor, Juan Diego Posada, was interviewed by the Associated Press about connections between the ex-FARC mafia and Brazilian criminal groups, and…