March 28, 2017
“Report Police hotline, how can I help you?” Milton Fonseca answers the phone in the office of AJS’s Anti-Corruption Legal Assistance (ALAC) program.
“Mm-hmm,” he says, opening a document and beginning to type. “Where did this happen?”
The caller had suffered from an injustice all too common in Honduras – during a routine traffic stop, a police officer had demanded an arbitrary payment, despite the fact that the caller had not broken any traffic regulations. When the caller said no, the officer refused to return the caller’s driver’s license.
Thankfully, the caller, who asked not to be identified, had seen a news report about a new way to report corrupt police officers. A quick google search turned up the number, and within minutes, Milton was finalizing the report to share with Carlos Pego, AJS’s lawyer in charge of police corruption.
Since the launch of their “Report Police” campaign in June, 2016, ALAC’s team has received over 525 reports of corruption or abuse by police officers. Some come in as phone calls, some by email, and others through a special app AJS designed to make it easy – and anonymous – to report government corruption. In other cases, witnesses or victims of corruption come into the AJS office to make their report.
After he receives the reports, Carlos Pego evaluates them – ensuring there is sufficient information and that the report links the officer with a crime like corruption, abuse of authority, theft, or even murder. ALAC takes on the investigation of cases of police corruption, and share all reports with the Police Reform Commission for their information as they evaluate every officer in the police force.
Often, these citizen reports can trigger a closer look that results in more crime and corruption being uncovered. Pego has seen many of the same police officers who appeared in the reports, later appearing on the list of officers fired from the force, whose documents are also shared with the courts for further legal investigation.
“This is a very important tool to compile information related to members of the police who are being evaluated by the Commission, but also for those who were already approved,” said Omar Rivera, a member of the Police Reform Commission.
“We’ve said this many times, those who are being approved to continue in police service are not being given a “blank check”, he continued, “they can be reported if anyone identifies that their actions are outside of the law or if they are linked with corrupt networks or bands of organized crime.”
As the Commission strengthens internal reporting structures, it’s also important that citizens across Honduras have their own methods of reporting police corruption. In an institution where police leaders have been accused of assassination and cooperation with drug traffickers, a bribe requested at a traffic stop may seem like a relatively minor crime. But it’s these day-to-day interactions that most affect Hondurans’ trust in the police. As these police face investigation and consequences for their actions, Honduras will continue to move towards a country where justice, and not impunity, reigns.