Government on edge after killing of police officer

The most recent murder of a police officer has put La Moneda on edge. The officer’s death added fuel to the already heated debate on security and accelerated the enactment of the Naín-Retamal law. Parties from left to right demand a firm response from the government in the fight against crime.

 On April 10, the government confirmed the arrest of two suspects involved in the murder of police officer Daniel Palma. Two others are still at large. The Naín-Retamal law, meant to strengthen and protect the functions of police officers, also came into effect that day. Manuel Monsalve, Chile’s Undersecretary of the Interior, indicated that the new law might also be applied retroactively in some cases, referring to the April 8 San Antonio case, in which a police officer was run over by a car after an inspection stop.

Palma’s death the last straw

Palma was killed the night of April 5. He was dispatched to check on a call about gunshots heard in Santiago Centro. Upon arrival, he went to inspect a suspicious car. He was then shot in the face by the vehicle’s occupants. Although rushed to the hospital, he died from his wounds later that evening.

Palma’s death led to a national uproar. He is the third police officer to be killed within a month, crime numbers have been rising, prisons are overflowing, and security has taken a priority spot on the political agenda.

Parties from left to right called for immediate action to give the police more capabilities to fight crime. Support for the controversial but popular Naín-Retamal law, which was passed in Congress early April, only grew after Palma’s shooting. The bill increases penalties for persons attacking police officers and grants the police more leniency in using their firearms.

Despite worries about potential human rights violations expressed by Amnesty International and the United Nations, President Boric enacted the law just hours after the Palma’s murder, and it went into effect on April 10. The government will also present its Use of Force Rules, which will detail when police officers are allowed to use force, and present a bill to make police body cameras mandatory. Minister Tohá said this will help protect the police and facilitate transparency and effective oversight.

Read more:

Amnesty International: ‘Privileged self-defense bill could increase police abuses’

Security crisis

Many feel that the Boric Administration has failed to find an effective solution to what is dubbed Chile’s “security crisis.” 

On April 6, an estimated 500 people gathered at La Moneda to protest against the Boric administration. They carried flags and posters with messages supporting the police. Among the protesters were politicians like Rodolfo Carter, the mayor of La Florida, and several congressmen.

Critical voices within the opposition grow. The right wing coalition Chile Vamos has pointed at the Partido Comunista (PC) as part of the problem. The PC is a member of the government’s Apruebo Dignidad coalition, and had long rejected the Naín-Retamal law. Chile Vamos told President Boric not to include them in the discussions or decisions linked to the security agenda anymore. More so, Chile Vamos criticized Boric’s own coalition, Frente Amplio, saying that it is “evident that there are people who are blocking progress in the security crisis.”

Dissatisfaction also grows within the Apruebo Dignidad coalition. Senator Gastón Saavedra from the Partido Socialista criticized Frente Amplio and the PC for trying to take the Naín-Retamal law to the constitutional court: “These components within Apruebo Dignidad did not have enough understanding of the political-historical moment the country is going through and are not ready to present an answer to the heartfelt and urgent demand for security for Chilean men and women.” “The government’s security agenda has to be supported by all of us. Socialismo Democrático [the coalition that Partido Socialista is part of] will do so, and this requires a unitary response. Right now there is no room for ideologicalism,” he added, referring to other parties within the Apruebo Dignidad coalition. 

Several parliamentarians went on to propose a State of Exception in the Metropolitan Area, a measure allowing the military to aid the police in its efforts. Rodrigo Delgado, former Minister of Interior and Public Security and member of opposition party Unión Demócrata Independiente, said, “The murder of Corporal Daniel Palma shows that there is no other way than a state of exception for the Region Metropolitana.” His proposal is supported by members of the Partido Socialista, the Comité Republico, and various independent senators.

Government response

In the days after Palma’s murder, the government’s spokeswoman, Camila Vallejo, called on people to react with “rationality and temperance.” She urged politicians not to think of “the political use of a moment that is difficult for the country.”

On April 10, Frente Amplio met with Minister Tohá, and then Vallejo announced an accord. She acknowledged that “We have had some differences about how to approach proposals that originate with the opposition,” but that as of right now, “The two coalitions that compose the government, its parliamentary benches, and the parties that are behind it, fully support  the government’s security agenda.”

Whether influenced by Palma’s death or not, the government is taking swift steps to strengthen the police. On April 6, the government announced its “urgent plan to reinforce police protection,” which includes the reinforcement of officers’ equipment, more police intervention in high-crime comunas, and the extension of police control through increased patrols and more large-scale operations. A budget of US$1.5 billion annually has been announced to accomplish these changes.

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