Friday, 5 February 2016

Colombia's arrested development

I've never really agreed to doing what are variable types of work by numbers. For example, back in my radio newsroom days we would be given a certain amount of stories to file daily, while the length of the hourly and main news bulletins had to be the same each day.

Policía Nacional de Colombia: far from the worst in the world ...
Colombia's 'Goodfellas', at times ...
Basically, with the odd exception, the news always had to fit certain parameters, regardless of what was happening, or not happening as the case sometimes was.

Fair enough, there are programme and ad-break schedules to stick to and 'the listeners', so we are told, like familiarity and routine. It's dangerous to mess with their heads you know, it could lead to chaos.

There are other areas, however, where this working to set numbers is far more questionable, to the point that it's potentially dangerous.

My new housemate is a recently graduated Colombian police officer and she told me how when out on patrol — that's two cops on the beat — they have to make a minimum number of arrests per shift. In her case it's three, but for others that threshold can be higher.

OK, 'but you're talking about crime-ridden Colombia' I hear you say; they should easily be able to meet whatever arrest requirements are stipulated. In many places, that is probably the case.

Yet having a minimum target can work negatively in two, somewhat opposing ways. Firstly, should officers be on the beat in Barrio Utopia, or more realistically just be on duty in a place where not much arrest-warranting activities are happening on the day, meeting their target is then difficult. With the pressure on, the temptation to 'invent' arrestable offences will surely be high. Who knows, they might try and push somebody's buttons who had previously been minding his own business, drive him over the line and then you have 'insulting a police officer' or the like: out come the cuffs.

On the other hand, if you have officers who, let's say, aren't the most consummate of professionals and are stationed in a heavy, 'caliente' location, once they've reached their arrest total, the onus to continue crime fighting might be low: 'I've done what I've had to do today and that's it. That stabbing can go by the wayside.'

For sure this kind of stuff isn't unique to Colombia (and, as I've mentioned before, I find the police here pretty trustworthy), but the bottom line is, there shouldn't be any need for it. Incidents of crime fluctuate depending on time and place. The goal for any upholders of law and order is to try and keep it under control. It's pretty obvious to tell when that's not happening, regardless of what the numbers say.
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