Ecuadorian gangs are taking another page from the playbook of crime groups in Mexico and Colombia, stepping up targeted killings of police officers in drug trafficking hotspots.
In a single week, three officers were recently slain while two others were injured in a series of hits primarily in the Guayas province, according to the Expreso news outlet.
The body of one officer was found on May 5 in the province’s cocaine trafficking hub, Guayaquil, reportedly with signs of torture. And on April 30, the country’s National Police announced that an officer was shot dead on a highway outside Guayaquil. He was pursued by two hitmen on a motorcycle who shot him repeatedly in broad daylight during a government-imposed state of exception, according to Ecuavisa.
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Hitmen on motorcycles have also struck attacked police officers in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Los Ríos this year, driving up to their intended targets before firing upon them. These officers were both injured but survived.
Such selective attacks follow a worrying trend in Ecuador. El Comercio reported that five officers were killed in 2020, rising to 13 in 2021. This number may be topped again in 2022 as seven police have been killed from January to early May 2022.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mimicking some of the more ominous elements of Mexico and Colombia’s security situations, Ecuador’s criminal violence is rapidly outpacing law enforcement capacities, while bringing to light painful truths about corruption within their ranks.
Targeted killings of police officers are one of the most visible consequences in the country’s decaying security climate, especially in the southern Guayas province where gang violence has soared.
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Violence now spreading to encompass law enforcement officials depicts a level of brazenness that had previously sat beyond the reach of Ecuadorian gangs. “The majority of police killings have to do with organized crime. They are settling scores,” Arturo Torres, a local journalist with extensive experience covering organized crime, told InSight Crime.
He added that some of the police being killed may have had direct ties to gangs. “Once police officers are recruited, they cannot leave these groups or stop operating on their behalf,” he said.
Torres explained to InSight Crime how the growth of Mexican and Albanian trafficking groups in the country has fueled greater violence and thus led to police officers being caught in the crossfire as well.
“There are more resources to buy police officers, or to intimidate them with threats, not only personally but also for their families,” he concluded.