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Confronting a Culture of Impunity: The Promise and Pitfalls of Civilian Review of Police in Latin America (From Civilian Oversight of Policing: Governance, Democracy and Human Rights, P 223-257, 2000, Andrew Goldsmith and Colleen Lewis, eds. -- See NCJ-188271)

NCJ Number
Rachel Neild
Date Published
35 pages
This paper examines the relationship between the military and the police in Latin America and reviews civilian oversight or review of police in El Salvador, Colombia, Argentina, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The discussion notes that military dominance of the government in Latin America goes back to the independence movements of the early 1800’s. Military domination of internal security tasks in many countries left police understaffed, underfunded, and politically marginalized. The countries in which police reform efforts have gone farthest are those emerging from civil wars where the international community helped support the peace process and provided massive assistance to public security reforms. Civilian control is central to democratic transitions and is a high priority for the region’s human rights movement. Existing efforts vary widely from a reform process establishing numerous channels for civilian engagement in Argentina to a police auditor in Brazil, a civilian review board in Colombia, and the human rights ombudsman’s office in El Salvador. The analysis concludes that political will and government commitment to reform police and assure effective civilian oversight and control remain the main factors in the success or failure of civilian control of police in Latin America. However, political will is not sufficient to ensure that civilian oversight is effective. Structural factors and leadership are also important. Overall, the problems of civilian control and police-community relations in Latin America indicate that civilian review offers a useful tool in the effort to develop democratic policing in the region and is also a tool with a potential that goes beyond its actual achievements to date. Footnotes and 33 references