Latin America / Covid-19

The challenge of the security forces during and after the pandemic

21 May 2020

The European Union EL PAcCTO programme organised a webinar for the security forces of the member countries of the “COVID police channel” this past 12 May. Some of the most relevant objectives were to exchange good practices, to learn about the problems of the different countries and to define possible common lines of work to face the new post-COVID challenges.

Fifty-four representatives of the security forces from 17 countries in Latin America and Europe took part.

From Europe, the colonel of the Spanish Civil Guard, Juan Manuel Molina Chamorro, coordinator of the COVID channel of EL PAcCTO, Mr. Joaquín Pereira, director of the International Cooperation Unit of the Portuguese Judicial Police and Major Georges Lopez of the French National Gendarmerie all took part.

The Civil Guard General, José Manuel Santiago, started the webinar by stressing that the administrative personnel of the Civil Guard have had to join the teams on the ground to face the health crisis. General Santiago is in charge of the Civil Guard coordination cell and is its spokesperson before the Spanish government and citizens.

EL PAcCTO created the “COVID police channel” at the beginning of April with the aim of exchanging lessons learned to confront the pandemic in Latin America and Europe together.

Crime during the health crisis

Some of the conclusions presented by the webinar participants are summarised as follows:

  1. A significant reduction in the number of murders and property crimes has been noted.
  2. A notable increase in domestic violence.
  3. Increase in cybercrime and new criminal behaviours. In Portugal, for example, cybercrime increased by 100 percent.
  4. In Spain, child pornography and human trafficking crimes have increased.
  5. Decrease in the delivery of drugs from abroad and increase in prices. In Portugal, for example, the reduction in drug trafficking is close to 55%.
  6. In some Latin American countries businesses have been looted for cash. With fewer robberies for food. However, there have been several cases of theft of containers with meat and other food products.

Adaptations to the “new criminality” and the COVID situation

To adapt to this “new normality” and “new criminality”, the security forces have reinforced some measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 among police officers.

For example, in Spain, the Civil Guard has created a system for dividing teams to reduce casualties due to infection (the teams were divided into two and took turns; if one team was infected, the remaining one would be divided again). Offices, vehicles, material, etc. have also been disinfected.

In Portugal, measures to deal with the pandemic were taken in early March, when the virus was arriving in Europe.

Furthermore, the French National Gendarmerie has favoured the exchange of information through operational networks to fight cybercrime.

One point to keep in mind for most countries is teleworking. Personal computers are less protected than those of companies, which favours the entry of Trojans. Prevention campaigns are needed to prevent companies’ computer networks or infrastructures from getting contaminated.

Deconfinement/de-escalation

What role will the security forces play at this stage? In many cases the decision-making institution is the Ministry of Health in consultation with other State institutions, including the security forces and corps.

In the deconfinement stage, the Civil Guard in Spain is involved in:

  • Controlling movements between regions and provinces.
  • Border control.
  • Control of unauthorised activities within the provinces.
  • Fourteen-day quarantine on arrival from abroad.
  • Obligations when taking public and private transport (use of masks, distancing

In Latin America, the security forces foresee an increase in the number of robberies due to the precarious social situation of some groups that are, for example, unemployed.

Other concerns are:

  • Change in the drug trafficking situation: new routes, higher prices, greater conflict, new means of trafficking (Uber, for example)
  • Increase in illegal mining due to the financial security of gold.
  • A favourable environment for health-related crimes  (supply fraud).

An increase in complaints of gender violence is also expected in Europe.

Furthermore, Portugal faces challenges with respect to the mandatory use of a mask and social distancing within offices.

The key conclusion of the webinar is that, according to the participating countries, the health crisis may generate a political crisis, an economic crisis and a social crisis for which the security forces must prepare.