Marvin Reyes, leader of an organization representing members of the Salvadoran national police force. EFE/Oscar Rivera/File

Salvadoran cops forced to meet arrest quotas, police officer says

San Salvador, July 27 (EFE).- The leader of an organization representing employees of El Salvador’s national police force said Thursday that officers were required to meet arrest quotas at the start of the state of emergency declared in March 2022 following a spate of killings blamed on gangs.

Families of people arrested under El Salvador's state of exception march in San Salvador. EFE/Rodrigo Sura

“They set the personnel of the National Civil Police (PNC) quotas for arrests per day, this led to their committing abuses,” Marvin Reyes said at a joint press conference in San Salvador with Socorro Juridico Humanitario (Humanitarian Judicial Aid), an NGO.

PNC officers, he said, “should adhere to the constitution, to the judicial framework of our country, and only arrest gang members.”

Authorities have arrested nearly 72,000 people under the state of exception, which entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and allows police to detain people without warrants and in the absence of grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

“The officer who makes the arrest is going to assume the responsibility,” Reyes said. “He is the one who is going to assume the responsibility for these arbitrary and illegal arrests to meet a quota that was demanded of him on the part of his bosses, on the part of the chief of police to please the regime.”

During the first few weeks of the emergency, each precinct was required to make between 20 and 40 arrests per day to ensure a nationwide total of 1,000 arrests daily, he said.

“To meet that quota, many police officers detained people who had nothing to do with the gang structures,” Reyes said.

The government of right-wing President Nayib Bukele insists that all of those detained are gang members, but El Salvador’s national ombud has received more than 7,900 complaints of human rights violations committed against those detainees.

The head of Socorro Juridico Humanitario, Ingrid Escobar, said at the same news conference that more than 75,000 minors with parents behind bars have been “abandoned by the state.”

“Regrettable, the innocent detainees, who are no fewer than 20,000, are not the only victims of the irresponsible execution of the state of exception,” she said. “We can demonstrate that the children don’t have access to basic services, such as health care and education.”

Since its founding in July 2022, Socorro Juridico has received 1,376 complaints about arbitrary arrest and roughly 300 reports about deaths in custody, 170 of which the group has been able to confirm, Reyes said.

Successive governments have struggled to subdue Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the other gangs, which originated in Southern California among the children of Salvadorans fleeing the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

Convicted gang members deported back to their homeland from the United States established the gangs on Salvadoran soil, where the number of members is currently estimated at around 70,000.

EFE hs/dr