Constitutional Process NATIONAL POLITICS

Public security remains citizen priority, polls say

The government should urgently tackle safety, according to polls. Concerns about social security have largely faded out of the public debate. Meanwhile, the government has started several initiatives to increase security on the streets.

Public security is a top issue for Chileans, with politicians left, right and center calling for and approving more police powers and measures against organized crime.

A January poll by Centro de Estudios Públicos found that for 60 percent of Chileans crime generally, including robbery and theft, are the most pressing issues the government should deal with. In addition, 56 percent think police should use force to control subversive groups, for example during protests. The figure is 26 percentage points higher than the one from August 2021.

Buried Statistics

Although the general figure of what officials denominate significant crimes – homicides, severe injuries, rape, among others – has not increased over the last 10 years, specific figures for homicides, violent robberies and illegal arms possessions rose. Only the figure for severe injuries sharply dropped.

Data from government crime analysis entity CEAD shows that homicides increased from 483 in 2012 to 934 last year. Violent robberies rose 45.2 percent and illegal arms possessions 123.5 percent.

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Violent crime is especially likely to feature on TV, which strengthened perceptions of foreigners’ involvement. In response, xenophobia increased and immigration entered the national political agenda. In February, the government deployed the army to the northern border to halt the influx of immigrants. Soldiers are carrying out identity checks and have detention authority.

The deployment shows that the state can govern large parts of the north – and crucially the south – only with the help of the military.

Legislative Initiatives

In early April, President Gabriel Boric enacted the Naín-Retamal law, which was rushed through Congress as media and political pressure grew after three on-duty officers were killed within weeks. The law is named after two slain officers and includes severe punishments for attacks on officers and expands police powers to use lethal force.

The government also announced a US$1.5 billion annual plan to reinforce equipment, increase police presence in crime hotspots, and carry out more large-scale operations.  

On April 24, the Calles sin Violencia (Streets without Violence) plan launched in 22 districts of Santiago. The plan will be implemented in 24 areas countrywide in May and involves the recovery of public spaces from criminal organizations through more effective prosecution, greater police presence, strict firearms control, and community intervention.

Crime in the Constitution

Elections for the 50 advisers to the Constitutional Council that will write the final constitutional draft are slated for May 7. The final draft will be voted on in a plebiscite later this year and is based on a preliminary draft written by an expert commission, selected according to political considerations.

In their constitutional proposal, the ruling coalition parties affirm the state’s duty to provide security and to prevent and punish crimes. The parties also propose the strengthening of the rule of law to improve security. This proposal is in line with earlier ones and largely uncontroversial.

But differences appear regarding the role of the agents of the state’s monopoly on violence. Under the current Constitution, Carabineros and investigations police PDI are in charge of “public order and internal public security.” The constitutional proposal that was decisively rejected last year mentioned both institutions should only safeguard public security.

The government’s new constitutional proposal said “the armed forces, Carabineros de Chile and the investigative police … shall be subject to civilian power based on the democratic principle of subordination.” They “must be modern and have sufficient resources for the fulfillment of their functions.”

More about the Constitutional Process: 

Constitutional Council elections: what you need to know

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