Security Minister Patricia Bullrich reiterated the government’s strong backing for police yesterday, vowing that “they will be protected” after a week in which crime and punishment have dominated the local political agenda.
Minister Bullrich, speaking in Washington DC where she participated in a series of security meetings with United States officials over drugtrafficking and terrorism, indicated that the government still plans to overhaul the Criminal Code in order to better protect police officers.
“If you want the police to act, you have to give them confidence that if they confront a crime taking place at that moment, they will be protected,” the minister said, during a morning press conference yesterday at the Argentine Embassy in Washington DC, at which the Times was present.
Bullrich, who revealed details about the burgeoning working relationship between US and Argentine security officials, argued that police officers were constrained in their actions.
“If a judge takes up a case each time there is a violent conflict between the police and suspect, this generates paralysis,” she said. “The police use dto avoid reported robberies or violence because they were afraid of being entangled in a legal problem afterwards.”
At home, the government faced a deluge of criticism this week from local and international human rights organisations, constitutional experts and opposition politicians grew, who have argued that the Let’s Change administration’s declared shift in security policy – “a change in doctrine,” as Bullrich herself declared – would ultimately lead to further deaths at the hands of police officials in the future.
By the end of this week, several politicians and human rights lawyers had filed criminal suits in courts against President Mauricio Macri and Minister Bullrich, accusing them of advocating a crime.
In her conversation with journalists, the security minister continued to stand by Luis Chocobar, the police officer whose actions sparked the debate on how to tackle crime. Chocobar has been placed under investigation by a judge for fatally shooting an alleged robber, 18-year-old Pablo Kukoc, who has been accused of stabbing a US tourist in the La Boca neighbourhood multiple times.
Following the judicial move, Macri and Bullrich hosted the officer at the Casa Rosada, vowing to assist with his legal costs and using the photo-call to insist that a reform of the criminal code is necessary, in order to be more lenient on police officers who are involved in these types of altercations.
Among the voices who starkly criticised the government’s actions this week was Human Rights Watch’s Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco. Posting on Twitter this week, the human rights advocate accused the Macri administration of seeming “to support police violence.”
Speaking yesterday, Bullrich dismissed the idea the government’s policies hands police broader scope to abuse their power. She insisted the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) administration’s approach was bearing fruit, pointing to decrease in the overall homicide rate from 7 to 5.2 per 100,000 people since the Macri administration took office.
Seated alongside Bullrich, Security Secretary Gerardo Milman explained how they had discussed the Chobacar case with the FBI, and suggested it would be ideal to implement that agency’s way of handling police abuse cases. In the United States, it is the FBI that determines whether a potential police abuse case goes to court, not the Judiciary, as happens in Argentina.
At the FBI’s academy in Quantico, Virginia, this week officials from both sides also talked about how Argentina had begun implementing the ‘Tueller self-defence protocol,’ which determines that at a distance of 6.4 metres a knife-wielder can hit a person in 1.5 seconds, which makes holding a knife the equivalent of carrying a firearm. The Argentine police’s defence manual already includes this finding in their protocol, Milman said.
Although it was pointed out by the journalists present that police forces in the US have recently come under criticism for excessive force, especially in the deaths of African-American citizens, Bullrich asserted that things in Argentina happen in reverse. “What we need is to fight crime like we are doing now, where police officers go and repress it at the moment it’s taking place,” she responded.
According to Correpi, an Argentine human rights organisation that investigates police abuse, the number of citizens killed by an excess of police abuse has grown to one every 23 hours on average, the highest number since the country’s last dictatorship the organization alleges. Bullrich disputes these statistics, calling them inaccurate.
During the Security Ministry’s delegation’s brief visit to Washington DC, they met with the FBI, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), Homeland Security and Congress, where they discussed how to work together on fighting drugtrafficking, counter-terrorism and preparing for the upcoming G-20 conference in Buenos Aires next November.
Regarding funding, the Security Minister said that the appropriations committee headed by Republican Congressman Harold Rogers was committed to providing more support for security operations in Argentina, although there isn’t a final figure yet.
Last year, the committee had provided US$700,000 in funding to Argentina for security purposes, but Bullrich said that in 2018 that amount would most likely doubled.
The Security Minister also confirmed that they would create a new “task force” based in Posadas, Misiones province on the Triple frontier border with Brazil and Paraguay, with the help of the DEA. It would be similar to the task force that is already in place in Salta province, which monitors the border that Argentina shares between Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay. Five or six DEA officials would join the task force in Argentina to review and analyse information, the minister said.
“An intelligence centre already existed there before, created in the 1990s, but it was neglected. This will rejuvenate our centre of operations in this area,” said Bullrich.
The task force’s main aim would be to control organised crime and monitor terrorist activities. She underlined, for example, that it would evaluate how drug-trafficking methods change when they are affected by climate conditions. Both Bullrich and Millman emphasized how US security officials repeatedly stressed the need to monitor Hezbollah cells in the country, especially on the triple front border area.
The Security Ministry had a list of technological equipment that they will be receiving, Bullrich revealed. Some of the items include gas detectors, bomb disposal robots, drones, specialised software and ultrasound systems for vehicles. Other countries also offered to provide equipment such as China, which is donating special scanners for the event.
The Security Ministry delegation will finish their trip to the United States this weekend, after meeting with the military’s Southern Command officers in Key West, where they will be joined for discussions by Defence Minister Oscar Aguad.