March 23, 2013

Policia - always nearby

Many years ago I visited Colombia. In fairness it was a different time and Colombia was a different place, then. In Colombia I came to fear the police. They were young and arrogant and always fingering the triggers on their sub-machine guns. And they liked to hassle young gringos, like me, then. That fact and witnessing a bunch of uniformed police storm into a bar and take a man into the street and beat him senseless, turned me off South American police for a while.

Here in Buenos Aires, the presence of the police is now comforting to me. To have a police officer walking the beat every block or two throughout this large city is refreshing and appreciated. In Buenos Aires there is almost always an officer nearby. There are problems, and indeed I have heard stories of corruption and brutality, but I have also seen the almost-friendly face of the same officer on my street corner for nearly three months. There is a comfort in that consistency. Once in a while we greet each other, and sometimes he smiles. When there is a problem of some sort, usually for a local shopkeeper, he is involved, and as near as I can tell, in a helpful manner. He was not keen to have his photo taken. Nor was the Riot Squad, but that's another story.

Policing in Buenos Aires is in transition, from a Federal force, to that of what we would call a municipal or regional force. The Policia Federal Argentina, or PFA, operates throughout the entire country, but mainly in the Federal Capital. Its ranks include over 25,000 officers. The Policia Metropolitana de Buenos Aires, was created in 2010 after lengthy political discussion and argument between the Federal and  City Governments. It is slowly taking over the policing responsibility for Buenos Aires Ciuadad. Today there are about 1900 in its ranks, and that number will reach about 17,000 when the transition is complete. The model for this new force is Britain's Metropolitan Police, and it is expected to be, if the funding is available, a well trained force using the latest in technology and adopting a zero tolerance policy for abuses within its ranks. The PFA will apparently continue as a national force, albeit a reduced force, possibly along the lines of the American FBI.

While there are many officers, both male and female, walking the beat in Buenos Aires, others sometimes appear on horses, some on bicycles or motorcycles, and of course, in cars. For reasons unfathomable to me, and to my queries unanswered, police cars always have their blue lights flashing. It seems to be standard police procedure in Argentina. They aren't in a hurry and they don't seem to be going anywhere in particular. There certainly aren't any donut shops in this city. It's as if they want to warn people, perhaps even the very people they might actually want to apprehend or catch in some kind of illegal activity, of their approach. Or maybe this is another example of walking the beat; showing a presence, being accountable and available. And if that's the case, it's a good thing. It might even be good policing.

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