Citizen patrols growing, despite lack of funding

13 de mayo de 2013 12:19

Seventeen years ago neighbourhood patrols were created to support police work in barrios in Quito and Guayaquil. 

In Guayaquil’s suburban low income neighbourhoods it was common to see neighbours pacing their streets armed with batons, sticks, homemade firearms, and most of all: courage.

These groups, known as “brigadas barriales” (neighbourhood brigades), patrolled at night to protect their streets as crime levels in the city rose. They sometimes used force against those they considered threats.

But these groups did not have much financial or organizational support, even though up until 2010 a portion of car registration fees was earmarked for the brigades.

In Jan. 2011, the minister of the interior at the time set out to restructure the neighbourhood brigades. His goal: transform them from crime repressors to crime preventers, and finance them with state resources.

His ministerial resolution #1845 established that provinces should manage the budget and coordinate the activities of the brigades. Many patrol leaders did not approve of this change in hierarchy. But they did agree that the brigades needed more resources.

The "Citizen Safety Corporation" members, as they are now known, no longer carry weapons. Instead, the officers identify themselves with blue and white vests, a cap, and they each carry I.D. that says they are community security officers.

Although the 2011 resolution established that funds for the brigades would come from Ecuador’s national budget and be administered by the governorships in the provinces, it’s still not clear how much money is to go to the brigades, and how they can access it.

A source at the Guayas governor’s office says that as long as the brigades are not legal entities, they can’t access the funds.

But the brigades are in operation anyway, and growing. Brigadist Julio Andrade says they leave reactive and dissuasive policing to the professional police, now, but that community members like themselves can do a lot to prevent crime in their neighburhoods. 

As an example, Gonzalo Yumbo, brigade coordinator in El Recreo, says he’ll go into a place, find 15 or 20 people who are interested in security, and teach them to be observers. They might dedicate a few hours to cleaning up the garbage and weeds at a local park, to eliminate hiding areas for drug vendors. The neighbourhood can also lobby the electric company, to build or replace lamp posts to help make their neighbourhood safer.

In other municipalities in Guayas, local governments have donated resources to the brigades, but the Guayaquil municipality has been apathetic about supporting them.

There are 18,000 brigade members in Ecuador: 970 in Guayas. The Ministry of the Interior hopes to increase that number to 30,000. Interested volunteers can fill out a form that the Ministry provides.

Original story

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