Community Policing in Honduras

There are two proposals on the table for creating a new security force to combat crime and violence in Honduras. The first one, which calls for the creation of a 5,000-member military police, under the auspices of the Honduran Armed Forces, is the brainchild of Nationalist presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández. The second one, which advocates a 4,500-member community police, under the National Police, was recently announced by Minister of Defense and Security Arturo Corrales.

Mr. Hernández's proposal is still on the drawing board and has the feel of an empty campaign promise. He doesn't yet know what his force would look like, although he said that he's looking seriously at modeling it after Colombia's National Police, which is the fourth leg of Colombia's Armed Forces. Keep in mind that, for the past half century, Colombia has been fighting a domestic revolutionary movement known as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) -- totally different from the threat Honduras faces from organized crime, drug cartels, and gangs.

Mr. Corrales' proposal has already been laid out in some detail and is targeted for implementation on September 1. The plan calls for setting up two new National Operations Centers that will supervise the community police units and monitor them with the use of GPS technology. It also focuses on restructuring the National Police so that it is broken up into 18 departmental units, 10 metropolitan units, 170 police districts, and 450 community police units. The cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula would be divided into quadrants to facilitate patrolling, community outreach, and intelligence gathering.

Mr. Corrales said that the community police units will be equipped with 175 new vehicles, 300 motorcycles, and 5,000 bulletproof vests. (Oh, please say you've factored in funds for good salaries, fuel, maintenance & repair, bullets, and decent living quarters.)

Former Minister of Security Oscar Álvarez likes Mr. Hernández's idea better than Mr. Corrales' because he believes that Hondurans are too scared to trust the police, and so they would be unlikely to cooperate with the new units. Maybe. But that's ultimately what has to happen if neighborhoods ever hope to be truly rid of the criminals that terrorize them. There has to be a healthy working relationship between citizens and their police in order to keep communities safe.

Sending in the shock troops may temporarily scare off the bad apples, but that's not a sustainable solution. In most cases, the criminals will go underground and continue to conduct their operations. Soldiers are good for patrolling and occasionally conducting raids or engaging in firefights. But they are relatively useless for preventing or solving crimes and breaking up extortion and drug (and human) trafficking networks. For this, you need to set up a permanent presence in communities and develop personal bonds with the residents.

Mr. Corrales' way is better.