"Hay policías claramente involucrados en generar caos"

por Federico Poore

Para el sociólogo Máximo Sozzo, profesor de criminología en la Universidad Nacional del Litoral, los bajos salarios de las fuerzas policiales solo explican uan parte de los amotinamientos de las últimas semanas.

¿Qué factores explican la crisis policial?
Estas protestas estuvieron fuertemente ligadas a dos tendencias, que no han sido homogéneas pero que se combinaron para producir este resultado. Por un lado, una progresiva pérdida de la calidad de condiciones laborales de las personas que trabajan en las instituciones policiales en los rangos bajos y medio-bajos, vinculadas no sólo a cuestiones salariales sino también a los turnos de trabajo y a las formas de asegurar la disciplina al interior de la fuerza. Todo esto combinado con la falta de voz de estos sectores, algo que no cambió demasiado con respecto a los años de la dictadura. En 2008 hicimos una encuesta en Santa Fe sobre una muestra representativa de policías. Una de las cosas que descubrimos es que el 88 por ciento (casi 9 de cada 10) reclamaba la posibilidad de crear algún tipo de asociación sindical. Es decir que la necesidad de que se los reconozca como trabajadores viene de hace tiempo.

¿Que beneficios puede traer la sindicalización policial?
Ante todo, transparentar los debates políticos al interior de la institución political. Hoy esos debates ya existen — y enfrentan a distintos grupos. Transparentar esa discusión puede ser interesante. Obviamente, no creo que algo así vaya a marcar modificar radicalmente la composición democratica de la fuerza — de hecho, en Gran Bretaña o en España la sindicalización no ha traido aparejada un crecimiento de la cultura democrática de la fuerza policial. Pero dada la situación en la que nos encontramos, creo es una posibilidad a explorar.

¿Qué diferencia encuentra entre Gendarmería, Policía Federal y las policías provinciales? ¿Alguna de estas fuerzas alcanzó un mayor grado de profesionalización que las otras?
La pregunta es, ¿qué entendemos por profesionalización? Si hablamos del gobierno democrático de las fuerzas policiales, en ninguna provincia se han producido avances sustantivos. Las quejas con respecto al servicio policial (es decir, si un oficial hace algo ilegal) aún son tramitadas por órganos policiales. Y en los casos donde hay un híbrido entre policías y civiles, la participación civil es mínima. De hecho, no hay participación de representantes electos, como legisladores y concejales.

En ese sentido, ¿qué evaluación hace del paso de Nilda Garré por el Ministerio de Seguridad?
Instaló una retórica de contenido democratizador y produjo algunas iniciativas puntuales, laterales, que podríamos considerar positivas. Pero esto no se traduce mágicamente en la transformación de las estructuras organizativas de la policía. En ese terreno, la experiencia con respecto a las fuerzas federales del Ministerio de Seguridad de la Nación fue inconcluso, y ahora sufrió un cambio de dirección. Se generó una especie de impasse. Es difícil que de 2011 en adelante se hayan producido cambios estructurales. Hubo mucha voluntad política, quizás voluntarismo, con decisiones que han sido valiosas pero no tienen la magnitud que el desafío requiere.

La Gendarmería nació como una fuerza de frontera, luego se trasladó al conurbano y se envía, de tanto en tanto, como fuerza militarizada a las provincias. ¿No se desvirtuó su rol?
Completamente. Esta conjunción de Gendarmería y Prefectura resolviendo problemas que las fuerzas provinciales no pueden es problemática. Ambas tienen una tradición y una cultura organizacional fuertemente ligada a la fuerza militar, nacieron para otros fines. Por otra parte, la idea de que estas fuerzas sólo hacen patrullajes y nunca incurren en abusos no es real, tal como lo muestran algunos estudios hechos en el Conurbano bonaerense.

Familiares y representantes de los policías que iniciaron la protesta en Córdoba pedían el aumento que luego les dio De la Sota con el argumento de que querían una fuerza sin corrupción. Como si un mayor sueldo fuese a terminar con las prácticas ilegales al interior de la fuerza.
Ese pensamiento es de una violenta ingenuidad. Primero porque todos sabemos que el involucramiento en redes ilegales puede garantizarles ingresos muy superiores a los 13,000 pesos. Segundo, porque ese agumento supone creer que la corrupción policial nace de la necesidad, cuando no es así. Sólo hace falta estudiar su reproducción al interior de las cadenas de mando. Esta crisis es la respuesta a las iniciativas en algunas provincias de combatir ciertos nudos de corrupción. Hay policías claramente involucrados en generar caos para enfrentar al poder político. Lo que está en juego es un desafío político sobre quién gobierna la policía.

¿Cómo se resuelve este problema?
La única forma de reconstruir la autoridad política es generar instancias de construcción de consensos para una reforma policial a través de los partidos políticos y con la ayuda de los segmentos de las fuerzas que estén de acuerdo en avanzar en una agenda reformista. Algo como la CONAREPOL (Comisión Nacional para la Reforma Policial) en Venezuela — una de las pocas propuestas de Hugo Chávez que logró el apoyo de la oposición.

* La edición en inglés de esta entrevista apareció en la edición del 15 de diciembre de 2013 del Buenos Aires Herald.

Entrevista a Gabriel Kessler

‘Border Guards cannot replace everyone’
Sociologist Gabriel Kessler talks to the Herald over the latest police protests

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 11-12-2013

Sociologist Gabriel Kessler has been studying crime for more a decade. As a Conicet researcher and teacher at the University of La Plata, his published works include Sociología del delito amateur — a take on marginal youth who had committed crimes — and El sentimiento de inseguridad (The feeling of insecurity).
Regarding the social conflict that followed police strikes, Kessler told the Herald that Córdoba Governor José Manuel De la Sota “set a very high bar for other provincial governments,” something that may mark the beginning “of a struggle over wealth distribution.”

What do you think caused the current police crisis?
Scenarios are different according to the province, but protests reveal a discontent over wages, especially among the lower ranks of the force. If you hear what some spokesmen — or wives of police officers — are saying, you’d notice they blame the highest echelons. There’s a gap between them. Now some things have caught my eye. For example, how couldn’t the smallest provinces such Chaco, Corrientes and Catamarca — where the government is usually more aware of certain movements — see it coming? Then there’s this idea that if the police is not present (in a certain area), people loot. A latent social conflict actually exists in certain sectors, but that’s not the whole story.

Would you agree that hegemony — social peace without the use of state violence — is working in certain districts and not in others?
You need to see where and how opportunities arise — who told who that there was going to be a liberated area, thus becoming a hotspot for violence.

Do you think the decision of Córdoba Governor Juan Manuel De la Sota to raise police wages to 13,000 pesos ended up causing a domino effect to the rest of the districts?
Without a doubt. De la Sota played a very complicated game because he set a very high bar for other provincial governments. Teachers unions have already warned about future demands. Anyone who had been asking for a 30 percent wage hike now feels like an idiot. We’re seeing the beginning of a struggle over wealth distribution.

When did these attempts of letting police regulate itself begin?
By around the same time as when they were allowed to have their own sources of “financing” (through illegal activities), it’s what we call the double pact. This has existed throughout these 30 years of democracy — but also during the (1976-1983) dictatorship. And although there were some attempts by (former Security Minister León) Arslanian and others in the Santa Fe province, democratic governments never achieved a major reform, it’s one of the greatest political debts of this era.

In Buenos Aires province, half-implemented reforms were rolled back by the current administration.
The (Governor Daniel) Scioli administration decided to return to the police leadership of security forces. There was also a setback in the progress over police training. The situation is somehow different at the national level, but one must treat each district as a unique case. On the other hand, the security agenda was fully installed in the provinces. This is not to justify governors, but one needs to acknowledge that brave reforms — which can sometimes bring complicated results — are hard to push through when at the same time you have a strong demand for public safety.

The paradox being that if you reform security forces, suspended police officers may try to destabilize peace — but if you leave things the way they are, social peace can be lost anyway.
Absolutely. Now the police has a huge power and an almost extortion-like negotiation capacity. Now the next thing that comes to mind is — what will happen when the Border Guard fails to keep up with all these demands? Border Guards are now believed to be the security force that is able to replace everyone, at any time.

Can we compare these events with those of December 2001?
No. I mean, there are some conflicts and images that take us back to those times — but I don’t think this is the same situation.

Enlace

The urgent challenges of police reform

Improvements achieved — but security forces need to be controlled by civilians

by Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 10-12-2013

Major improvements regarding citizen security have been achieved since the return of democracy, although inconsistent approaches to criminal activity — which has become more complex over the last 30 years — and the lack of structural police reforms are challenges that have yet to be fully tackled.
“When it comes to security, changes have not been complete,” former security minister León Arslanian told the Herald.
“I welcomed the creation of the Security Ministry and the fact that the government began taking some action in the right direction with the appointment of (Nilda) Garré — but I still see little progress on this front.”
Arslanian said the most remarkable absence of the last three decades had to do with the failure to restructure police in order to establish the democratic governance of the force, led by civilians — an attempt he reportedly tried to implement during his time at office.
But the history of the government’s stance towards crime has changed from a zero-tolerance, tough-on-crime narrative to a progressive approach consistent with human rights.
The results leave much to be desired as evidenced by the sit-ins and protests that have led to police strikes in several provinces over the past week.

Acceptable in the ‘80s
“In the years following 1983, security matters were not at the top of the agenda as other issues were being widely discussed, such as the trial of the military juntas — the downward spiral of crime had not yet become fully evident,” former Buenos Aires province lawmaker Walter Martello told the Herald.
The 1987 Ingeniero Budge massacre — when three youngsters were killed by police — and the murder of 17-year-old Walter Bulacio in 1991 were two cases of police brutality that had a great impact on public opinion.
After those events Argentines “began questioning the repressive apparatus and the lack of individual guarantees,” wrote sociologist Gabriel Kessler and historian Sandra Gayol.
Measures by human rights movements following these cases marked the end of edictos (city ordinances), local measures not included in the penal code that granted arbitrary power to police officers.

Comings and goings
Martello — who is about to release a book on the Buenos Aires province security ministers of the last few decades — said that during the 1990s new powers were granted to the provincial police forces once again.
“The arrival of (former governor) Eduardo Duhalde marks the beginning of a series of comings and goings in the security arena. Everything was tried to renew the department — from the naming of (carapintadas Army mutineers head) Aldo Rico to the appointment of mayors such as (Ituzaingó local leader Alberto) Descalzo,” the former Civic Coalition (CC) congressman said.
Low salaries and the first experiments to “let the police regulate itself” were the dominant factors of the era.
The first real attempt to improve things, Martello said, took place during the 2002-2003 administration of Juan Pablo Cafiero, when Felipe Solá began as governor following the 2001 political and economic crisis.
“Cafiero took office at a very difficult time, with a wave of kidnappings for ransom and car theft murders. He pursued a very serious policy regarding car thefts — but enjoyed little political support and his measures didn’t last too long.”
Following a series of moves by Solá’s successor, Daniel Scioli, the recent appointment of Ezeiza Mayor Alejandro Granados marked the return of the tough-on-crime stance that has repeatedly failed in the past.

Ties with illegal activities
Other provincial forces, however, are even further behind, Arslanian warned.
“In many districts there have been no major changes since the return of democracy. And it’s a shame because attempts at restructuring — mainly with regards to leadership of the security forces — could be promoted from the national administration. This posture of police ‘autonomy’ must end,” the former official said.
The recent examples of the Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces, where police chiefs were arrested accused of ties to drug-trafficking, proves that the link between security forces and illegal activities is still alive and well.
At a national level, Kirchnerite governments have tried to reform police forces, with different emphasis over the years.
The naming of centre-left leader Nilda Garré as Security minister marked the height of this trend. But her resignation earlier this year and the rise to power of Lieutenant Colonel Sergio Berni — a shift not shared by progressive sectors — was a return to certain policies at odds with the multi-party “consensus for Democratic Security” agreed upon in 2009.

A neglected issue
Ever since the restoration of democracy, political leaders of this country have neglected public safety issues, former Buenos Aires province security secretary Marcelo Saín argued in a recent United Nations report.
These problems, Saín said, “became a politically relevant matter when the growing sense of insecurity among the population began to have an impact on public opinion and affected the electoral performance of national and provincial leaders.”
In this context, specialists agree that a real effort to modify the sector — improving police transparency and crime-fighting tactics — must be undertaken outside the electoral agenda.