‘There have been enormous delays to reforming the Federal Police — it’s inexplicable’
León Arslanián, former Juntas trial judge and former ex-BA province security minister, on policing in the City, the province and at the national level
With the experience of having tried to reform the unruly and often dangerously corrupt Bonaerense on his CV, León Arslanián is uniquely qualified to tackle the significance of the changes that the City government has proposed for the City Police. A former Security minister in the province and before that a judge in the Trial of the Juntas, Arslanián spoke to the Herald about the reaches and potential pitfalls of reform and what he considers to be a need to focus on the Federal Police.
What are your observations with regard to the changes in the City?
I completely agree with the new law that governs the City Police and the security framework. I think that it includes fundamental principles of the reorganisation of police forces and citizen security, and I think it was time to bring to a close the process of the consolidation of the City Police.
Secondly, I think that the unification of ranks and the elimination of the categories of officers and petty officers is an excellent idea. That division between officers is a huge anachronism and is part of a division that is based historically on less stringent entry requirements for the petty officers. Now at least a high school diploma is required for entry into the police and so it doesn’t make sense.
Third, I would like to celebrate that, as in the province of Buenos Aires, community forums have been created. These help to promote democratic practices, and a police force must necessarily have a link with the community in which it is acting. The forums are a proactive way in which proposals and ideas for public policies in terms of security are debated. These forums are not decorative, they allow for a social control of the police that did not exist before.
What about the promise of a civilian in charge of the police?
This is very important because the strategic control of the police is a tool of governance, and it must be managed as a public policy. The decision of what is prosecuted is only decided by the Attorney General’s Office and the Executive, and in no way can it be an issue for the police itself. Obviously the police still retains for itself the management of the operational side. Strategic control for the civilians, operational control for the police.
These changes will alter accountability and authority within the force but the vast majority of City Police will be used to other kinds of rules. Do you envision any conflict?
It may generate conflict, these processes of adaptation take some time, and the adjustment may generate frictions. This will obviously force the City government to carry out a political follow-up so that the new rules are strictly followed, but I do think that in the end it will be possible to make the two police forces compatible. If you consider the Metropolitan Police, much of it is former Federal Police, so that is how this all started anyway.
More broadly, what is your position on the Federal Police?
The problem is that there have been enormous delays — and I don’t know why this hasn’t happened — to the reform of the Federal Police. It is frankly inexplicable, because given its size it would be easier to reform the Federal Police than the Bonaerense, for example.
I can’t understand why the Federal Police is not considered as a judicial support and to prevent federal crimes across the entire country. Unfortunately many of the federal courthouses in the country’s interior are protected by provincial forces, and that is definitely negative. The offices in the interior have also failed, generally.
The problem now is to redefine the role of the Federal Police, focus it on complex investigations so that it focuses on crimes which are of a federal nature, be they of multiple jurisdictions or transnational.
And of course there are serious problems that have gotten worse over the years. Facing popular pressure, especially after certain events make it into the media, there has been been an overlap of security forces. Here in the City there is an overlap between the Coast Guard, Border Guard, Airport Security Police (PSA), and of course the Federal and Metropolitan Police and it also happens in the first ring of the Greater Buenos Aires. Nothing, beyond some kind of symbolic power in the criminal system justifies such nonsense. The Border Guards should be on the border, the Coast Guard on the sea, and there is no reason for (them) to be patrolling a wealthy neighbourhood such as Puerto Madero or any other neighbourhood in the province. If we return them to their original function I think that we would do more to prevent federal crimes such as human-trafficking and smuggling.
In addition to these scenarios you get alternative hypotheses which justify the use of Armed Forces for internal security — a concept prohibited by law, which has been supported by every democratic government since 1983. The justification is that there are new threats such as drug-trafficking or terrorism which must be met with military force. This is a very delicate issue. The involvement of the military, above and beyond the constitutional ban, generates new risks and threats. We have examples such as the use of the military in Mexico against the cartels and the experience of the last dictatorship here in Argentina.
The Buenos Aires provincial government has carried out some efforts to reform the Bonaerense. How do you view that effort?
As far as I know in the province of Buenos Aires there isn’t a public security policy. There are some very appropriate decisions that have been taken by Governor María Eugenia Vidal that must be valued, such as the effort to eliminate police corruption, to thin out and remove some officers. This is an important element but I don’t think it has anything to do with more complex models of police organisation. I also don’t see that an effort to restore the valuable and successful reform that we carried out. Concretely, community participation in policing matters through forums that were so fruitful.
What we proposed and were able to achieve was the decentralisation of the police, and the creation of regional officers. The police needs to be on the ground where things are happening.