New Security Initiatives in El Salvador Focus on Citizen Participation

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President Sánchez Cerén greets a newly trained Community Police officer - photo: presidencia.gob.sv

As violence and crime continue to be a principal concern for most Salvadorans, the Sánchez Cerén administration is shifting significantly from past “iron fist” security policies to implement new measures that focus on community participation in both violence prevention and law enforcement.

A new Community Policing program is already underway in many high-risk urban neighborhoods of the greater San Salvador metropolitan area, and it will soon expand throughout the country. Under the program, a small group of officers are assigned to a particular community; in coordination with local neighborhood councils, they establish contact with each household in the area and provide them with personal contact information. The program aims to build trust between neighbors and the police and offers a means to report criminal activity anonymously while encouraging community collaboration and participation in preventing and reporting violence. Minister of Security Benito Lara explained that the initiative doesn’t seek “a relationship that turns the population into a simple informant,” but that “the people will have oversight over the police themselves because they’ll know who they are.”

At the national level, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has convened a National Citizen Security and Coexistence Council, facilitated by the United Nations Development Program with financial support from the European Union. The Council’s participants include government ministries, municipal governments, the Organization of American States, and representatives from political parties, churches, the media and the private sector. In October, the Council convened six working groups dedicated to violence prevention, crime fighting and prosecution, social re-insertion and rehabilitation, victim assistance, strengthening citizen security institutions, coordination mechanisms and media. “This initiative seeks to reinforce social cohesion, build trust between citizens for violence prevention, and have a positive influence on the quality and competence of our institutions in order to improve justice systems and law enforcement,” said President Sánchez Cerén.

Encouraging the participation of diverse sectors of Salvadoran society, the Community Policing and the Citizen Security and Coexistence Council demonstrate the administration’s recognition of violence as a multi-causal phenomenon that requires structural, systemic changes and ample community involvement to address.

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