Just weeks after the creation of the City Police, a series of events clearly demonstrated the historic problems of corruption and violence associated with the Argentine Federal Police (PFA) and for which the Buenos Aires City Government (GCBA) must now answer.
Groups of residents of the Flores neighborhood protested at police precinct 38 over serious incidents that they attributed to the historic collusion between police and illegal businesses and the existence of “lawless areas.”
The GCBA responded to those reports with the traditional approach of greater police presence and more ID checks. Other options, such as tackling corruption and collusion between police forces and crime networks or working seriously on the illegal arms market problem, were once again left aside.
The southern part of the city is where the most victims of crime are concentrated. According to the latest report by the Judicial Council, in 2015 72.5% of intentional homicides in the city of Buenos Aires occurred in districts in this area.
As occurred in Operation Southern Belt (Cinturón Sur), police saturation can diminish some types of crime but its effect is fleeting if deeper reforms are not put in place that transform police behavior. At the same time, if non-police security policies are not deployed, the measures lose effect and saturating the area with police degrades into situations of daily abuse toward inhabitants in poor neighborhoods. Over time, these situations serve to reinforce the very dynamics of violence they aim to combat.
The city government must tackle a very complicated situation in the southern part of the city while Operation Cinturón Sur is dismantled. The problems will mount if police prefects and gendarmerie are to be replaced by the same intact structure of the PFA, which had been moved out of the area due to its corruption and violence.
In the last ten days, there have been serious cases of irrational use of force by members of what is now the City Police, one of which was fatal, in high-traffic areas of the city, such as San Cristóbal, Parque Centenario and Boedo. In all three cases, the officers transferred from the PFA fired at alleged thieves that, according to witnesses, were unarmed or did not pose a threat to the physical integrity of the police. There was no political message aimed at discouraging these police practices. Today, one 28-year-old person died in Mataderos when caught in a police shootout.
The structures of oversight, investigation and sanctioning of the Metropolitan Police proved to be very weak, in the absence of explicit political will to control the violence of that police force. Today the city government cannot repeat that pattern, because doing so with thousands of federal police now under its jurisdiction, the outcome will be much more dire.