The Police officer, El Salvador

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a police officer in San Salvador who gave me a brief insight into his life as a police officer, the adversities the corporation goes through on a daily basis and his general perspective on life in El salvador.

Before Carlos ( not his real name ) became a police officer he worked as a cleaner. His parents opposed the idea that he became a police man, although for a long time he wished to join the forces and embrace the profession with passion ever since.

I immediately open up the conversation on the subject of gangs in El salvador, which is a hot topic here. Most crimes that occur in this nation are attributed either to the MS 13 or to the 18th St. gang.

Carlos informs me that there has been an increase in female homicides in recent weeks, many of which are allegedly related to the gang wars.

So far in San Salvador I have heard of over 20 female homicides in 3 weeks, a shocking figure indeed. In fact, as I was chasing pictures yesterday night, a friend of mine informed me that already 5 female murders had taken place, and that is not adding the male murders that occurred.

Carlos reveals that in most cases, women in gang-controlled communities end up in the hands of these groups who can dispose of them whenever they want. Gangs have no respect for human life nor age, so for example, when you become a part of a group you must follow the orders or else you will be severely punished.

It’s pretty common to live in an area controlled by one of the two main gangs though in Carlos’s case, his neighbourhood is controlled by a narco group. He actually prefers to have that rather than the MS or 18 st. because narcos don’t interfere with peoples lives, all they care about is in making money and mind their own business.

Carlos assures me that no gangs operate in the area where he works, although on my way to the police station I noticed a few gang signs on the walls.

On a side note, Carlos disclosed to me that he once saw the previous head of the police station where he currently works meeting up with one of the drug leaders from his local area. He never found out why they had both met behind closed doors at the police station…after that, doubts about the credibility of his previous boss emerged…

As we jump back on to talking about the police policy to tackle crime, Carlos tells me that the force should not be undertaking prevention tasks to tackle criminals. ‘The reason why a staggering amount of police officers have died is because we don’t have authorisation to act aggressively against gang groups’, he comments. Last year a shocking figure of around 46 police officers and 22 soldiers were killed in confrontation with criminals or while they were off duty.

Carlos argues that an element that obstructs the police work is the fact that they need to look after the human rights of each gang member every time they confront them. He also sustains that police repression is the only way forward to correct this society. ‘As soon as the police assume control once again, we could gradually move back to applying a preventative policy but for now repression is the only way forward’, he adds.

I can hear a fair bit of anger and frustration in his words when he talks about his job. Carlos tells me that the main reason he feels that way is because he has to follow top official’s orders to undertake his police duties but that is not the way to act. Nevertheless, his anger against gang members has forced him to keep proceeding in a repressive way to combat the problem. If he needs to kill a gang member he will do it with no remorse and will show no pity towards him/her.

He tells me that a fellow parent of his once forgave a gang member’s life and let him live. As time passed on, the gang bumped into the police officer and shot him dead. For that reason he will kill if the opportunity turns up.

Carlos confesses that he has a young cousin who belongs to the 18 st. He is opposed to his cousin’s involvement in the group though there is nothing he can do to correct change his ways. Carlos is also of the belief that change is not possible in peoples lives. In other words, he has no hope in positive change…

After I hear him mention that he is willing to kill a gang member no matter what, I ask him if he would be willing to kill his own cousin and he responds that if he had to kill his cousin for a mistake he made he would do it without pity, regardless of whether he is family or not.

He feels powerless that he could not do anything to avoid the murder of his friend and police partner Yamileth, the first female officer to be killed by the 18 st. gang in El Salvador in 2015 on her way to the shop.

I am curious to know why Carlos never ended up involved in gangs. He explains that he was never interested in drugs and he always held a strong passion for football. His Mom and Dad were role models in his life and imposed a set of rigid rules while he was young. They provided him with love and understanding. Those are the reasons I did not end up in gangs, ‘Carlos says’…

I finalise our conversation asking him for the definition of a few concepts.

‘Optimism’ to him means being positive, to try and accomplish your dreams. ‘Family’ is everything that one fights for to keep going in life, ‘politics’ is nothing but corruption, people that live off of the rest. “Freedom’ means to be independent though nobody can be totally free.

I thanked him for his time and asked him what the best way to get to the bus was. On the way out I noticed a young person standing right by a lamp post. I did not think anything of it but as he saw me, he started to intimidate me by shouting, ‘gringo, get the fuck out of here’ several times. I then turned towards a wall and spotted another 18 st. mark on the wall. I carried on walking until I found my way to the bus…

Using Format