Police Violence Across the Country: Reforming the Forces is Urgent

The number of serious acts of police violence recorded across the country shows how necessary it is for the authorities to promote substantial reforms in the national and provincial security forces.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, in different parts of the country, the provincial police and federal forces have repeated violent practices, some as serious as torture and executions. Detainees have died in police stations and a person who disappeared after being arrested was later found murdered. This is a list of cases of police violence in Argentina during this period.

March 23. La Pampa. In General Pico, Sebastián Britos was shot by an agent of the special force Grupo Especial Operativo of the provincial police while returning home after buying bread. He received several rubber bullet impacts in the neck and face.

March 27. City of Buenos Aires. Enzo, 22, was leaving his girlfriend’s house in La Paternal when he was arrested by the City Police. They beat him with their bare fists and batons, sprayed him with pepper spray at close range, and threatened him saying they had “a bullet for him.”

March 29. Chubut. A woman reported that she was abused by police in Puerto Madryn, after being detained for an alleged violation of isolation when she returned from work. She was forced to remove her clothes and squat in front of police personnel.

March 29. Buenos Aires Province. The National Gendarmerie erupted violently, preventing a celebration in the La Cava neighborhood of San Isidro with the excuse of applying the isolation measures, although the rule there allowed the neighbors to remain outside in the narrow streets. Fifteen gendarmes were accused of wounding a 7-year-old girl with lead bullets, hitting and injuring an 18-year-old girl, and threatening, hitting, and simulating the execution of a 15-year-old boy and a 28-year-old man.

March 31st. Córdoba. Alta Gracia police forcibly entered a home and arrested a young man accused of violating isolation. In the irregular procedure, they beat the mother and father of the young man, both highly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age and chronic diseases. The police threatened with a firearm a family member who filmed the operation.

April 5. Saint Louis. Florencia Magalí Morales was found hanging in a cell at the 25th police station in Santa Rosa de Conlara, ten hours after being detained for riding a bicycle in the wrong direction, thus violating lockdown without any ID on her.

May 1st. Santiago del Estero. Members of the 10th police station in Santiago del Estero detained Mauro Coronel at his home. His mother went to the police station and heard that he was being beaten. That same morning he was admitted to the Regional Hospital by the police, who omitted to notify his relatives. Four days after the arrest Mauro died, the autopsy revealed injuries to the respiratory tract.

May 1st. Santa Cruz. In Río Gallegos, Javier Astorga was returning from his mother’s house when he encountered a police roadblock. Six infantry officers detained him and took him to the 6th police station. There he was beaten and humiliated for his sexual orientation for six hours. After his liberation, he filed a complaint and was referred to the hospital with bruises and hairline fractures in the jaw and ribs.

May 9. Santa Fe. In Villa Constitución, the police violently entered the home of a family because one of its members had left the house and returned. They broke down the door and, once inside, they shot and wounded several people, including a pregnant woman.

May 15. Tucumán. In Melcho, police from the Monteagudo police station participated in an irregular operation to prevent a horse race. The policemen shot Luis Espinoza dead and hid the body to cover up the crime. After a week of disappearance, Luis was found in Andalgalá, Catamarca.

May 28. Buenos Aires. Adrián was detained and severely beaten by Federal Police officers at the José C Paz train station. Adrián performs garbage collection tasks in the Tres de Febrero department and, at the time of the police interception, he had permission to circulate. For no reason, a police officer beat him violently.

May 31. Chaco. In Fontana, provincial police officers, several of them without their uniform, stormed into the home of an indigenous Qom family. They entered without a search warrant, in the early hours of the morning, and tortured, beat, and humiliated them.

May 31. Buenos Aires. In General Madariaga, Fabián Andina was attacked by Buenos Aires Police, after a discussion. They made him get out of his vehicle and beat him on the ground. Andina was hospitalized with blows to the body and a retinal detachment.

June 14. Buenos Aires. In Sierra de los Padres, police at station 14 entered a farm without a search warrant and without identification. There they detained three rural workers of the independent farming union UTT. The three men had just gotten into a Ford F100 truck. The police accused them of having stolen the vehicle. The workers showed the papers of the vehicle, but they were beaten violently and detained for defying authority.

There were also three reports of very serious cases of federal forces in underprivileged neighborhoods:

On May 24, Alan Maidana was assassinated in Berazategui, some 30km from the country’s capital, by Germán Bentos, a member of the Federal Police Force who acted with his regulatory weapon off duty. The police officer – who was in his private car – was hit in the back of his vehicle and responded with 5 gunshots. Alan Maidana, 19, was shot in the back. The policeman alleged having been robbed, but never reported it or called 911.

On May 30, Lucas Barrios was killed by another federal police officer, Osvaldo Rendichi on Maciel Island, in the Southern suburb of Buenos Aires. They allegedly met to conduct a business transaction and another man attempted to rob the policeman. Rendichi, who was in civilian clothes, shot Lucas 18 times.

On June 17, Facundo Scalzo, 20, was assassinated by members of the Gendarmerie, in the capital’s neighborhood of Bajo Flores. After a discussion between neighbors, a group of officers chased Facundo and another young man. The autopsy indicated that Facundo was shot four times, two in the back and two in the arm.

Pending Police Reforms Are Urgent

This succession of serious cases in these few months is a great wake-up call about the persistence of high levels of state violence. In many of these cases, the executive powers suspended the officers involved and judicial investigations are underway. Although some of the police interventions began as actions to enforce mandatory isolation, it is still unclear how much this factor weighs in.

In any case, what we are seeing is another display of long-standing abusive practices: harassment, unregistered arrests, procedures led by non-uniformed officers, violent and irregular raids, tampered logbooks, abusive use of force, concealment of evidence, make up a repertoire of extremely violent police interventions that are tolerated. They are made possible because police work is demeaned and political and judicial control is low and deficient. As with other aspects of inequality, mandatory isolation allowed a structural problem to surface.

In recent years, the federal Department of Security played an excessive role with interventions that attempted to legitimize the irrational use of lethal force. The visibility of that policy made the questions focus on the federal forces. However, it is clear that the reform and modernization of the provincial police forces are as important as those that should be implemented at the national level. In this sense, it is important that many different levels of governments intervene politically on episodes of police violence, not limiting the scope of their intervention to a case-by-case basis.

The violent situations of the last three months should put this deficit on the priority list. Argentina’s president Alberto Fernández expressed that this is a topic of paramount importance. The new administration of the national Department of Security communicated its intention to enhance the relevance of the Federal Security Council. This is an important measure since the Council unites security policymakers and enforcers from all provinces and at the federal level.  This council is a space where the national government can promote political agreements and establish minimum standards of organization and operation for the police forces countrywide.

A political commitment from the national government and the governors is therefore necessary to promote substantial reforms that will change the practices of the police throughout the country. The reform process has already begun in Santa Fe, and the Chaco province proposal to reform the police control body also deserves our attention over the next months, as well as the announced intended changes in the Federal Police.

The key issue in the political agreements is to combine the effective repositioning and control of the security forces without getting in the way of efficacy and human rights. Some necessary issues involve the creation of police control agencies with the actual capacity to investigate police activity; the production of statistical and qualitative information –systematized and of public access– on police activity and mechanisms (which includes but exceeds the statistics on crimes); the elaboration of action protocols with clear criteria for police intervention; a strict review of the education and training plans, as well as retraining policies based on international standards.

Photo: M.A.F.I.A