Alarm over police gun guideline allowing cops to shoot without warning

The ambiguously-worded regulations significantly expand circumstances in which officers can use lethal force

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich launched new police gun guidelines allowing officers to open fire without warning in situations of “imminent danger.” 

“Agents must always identify themselves as such, giving a warning, but there is an exception we need to understand,” Bullrich said in a Wednesday press conference. “There are certain moments in which, if the agent identifies themselves, they are putting their life, or others’ [lives], at risk.”

The new guideline applies to federal security forces, including the federal, navy, military and airport security police.

It comes as Rosario, the biggest city in Santa Fe province, suffers a spike in gang violence. This week, the national government sent federal officers and resources to bolster the local authorities.

Agents who shoot in circumstances contained within the new rules will not face disciplinary action unless they are facing judicial restrictions.

“[For years] the security forces were deprived of their power to repel attacks,” Bullrich said. That, she said, is why the government has now overturned norms included in the Criminal Code that stopped officers from shooting without prior warning.

“With these rules, agents will know they are under the system’s protection,” Bullrich said. “A police officer that is scared can become a dead officer, or result in a dead citizen, because the officer didn’t react.”

The guideline was published Thursday in the Official Bulletin. It states that officers should only open fire on duty when it is strictly necessary and other non-violent measures are ineffective, such as when their lives or others’ lives are at risk, to stop serious crimes that could endanger lives, or to stop dangerous criminals from escaping.

It also states that officers should always identify themselves and warn alleged criminals to cease their actions before opening fire, except when identifying themselves could increase the risk of an aggressor killing or seriously injuring another person, or endanger officers.

Officers may also open fire without identifying themselves when it could alert criminals to the position of other agents, putting them or those under their protection at risk of serious injury or death, or when officers are at a potentially lethal numeric or tactical disadvantage.

Additionally, they can now shoot without identifying themselves when doing so “could be evidently inadequate or useless, given the circumstances.” It is unclear what circumstances this includes, and how agents could objectively identify such situations.

The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) published a statement on Thursday evening responding to the new protocol, citing several concerns about its legality and Bullrich’s track record as Security Minister under former president Mauricio Macri. 

“Although the text cites international standards that are part of our legal system, it does not abide by them,” it says. “The proposed directives disregard basic principles like exceptionality and proportionality.”

The human rights organization highlighted that the protocol marks the return of the so-called “Chocobar doctrine,” approved by Bullrich during her tenure under the Macri administration, which also expanded the rights of police officers to use lethal force. It was named after a police officer convicted of murdering a teenager who had mugged and stabbed a tourist in La Boca. 

The CELS statement points out that while Bullrich defended and praised Chocobar’s actions, the judicial investigation ruled that “the officer had acted in an abusive manner.”

“All officers must be held accountable for their actions, especially when they carry a weapon given to them by the state. There is no justification for attempting to limit or eliminate judicial limits to actions by police the penitentiary system,” the statement concludes. “The officers will be even more exposed and nothing will have been gained in terms of increased security.”


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