This paper draws lessons for combating kidnapping for ransom, based on open-ended interviews with high-ranking officers of the National Civil Police of El Salvador, which has succeeded in virtually eliminating this crime as a significant problem.
Following more than a decade of civil war and the 1992 peace accords that included a reform of the police force, the new National Civil Police of El Salvador (PNC) faced a wave of kidnappings for ransom. Through a variety of measures and reforms, the PNC succeeded in reducing these kidnappings from a peak of 114 in 2000 to 7 in 2003 and 4 over the first 6 months of 2004. The current study interviewed every policymaking police officer of the PNC who had been involved in countering kidnapping for ransom from 1999 to 2004. Eleven lessons were drawn from these interviews. These lessons are as follows: kidnappings for ransom should be investigated by a single police unit; all cases should receive equal resource commitments; the investigative unit must be led by a veteran officer with a record of integrity and commitment, as well as the ability to adopt innovative strategies rapidly; the chief of police should closely monitor the unit's operations; case development and operations should be continually evaluated; surveillance, intelligence collection and analysis, and investigation should be performed by different departments within the investigative unit, with a constant flow of information among these departments; the investigative unit should be located in an isolated and secure location to avoid leaks; all police units should be considered in strategy development; public trust in the police effort should be ensured by using the most reliable and experienced officers; the police should meet with the media to discuss the impact of their case coverage; and other criminal justice system components should be included in strategy development. 25 references