Picture this: You’re at home with your friends, around 3 in the morning, listening to Joe Arroyo belting out “La Noche”. You’ve cranked up the volume as high as it goes because you love the chorus and you’re singing along. Suddenly, the door bursts open and two police officers come in. They march right over to the stereo and turn it off and then they give you a ticket for violating public order. Would you be angry?
Ok, now picture this: It’s around 3 in the morning and you just came off a 12-hour shift at the hospital and you have to work again in 8 hours. You’re trying to sleep but you can’t because your neighbor is having a party and has cranked up his speakers. You tried ringing his doorbell but no-one answered. Out of desperation, you call the police, and within a few minutes, you hear a door breaking open and Joe Arroyo going silent. Finally, peace, you can sleep. Would you be happy?
One of the most contested regulations in Colombia’s new Police Code, the rules that govern how police should act in certain situations, is Article 164 which gives officers permission to enter private premises (homes and schools) without a warrant in the case where they suspect a crime is being committed, people’s lives are at risk, or, as in the case above, to restore public order. Most of the people I have spoken with are up in arms about this update and for the most part, the concern is that the power will be abused:
Question: What do you think about the fact that police officers will be able to enter your home without a warrant?
“To be blunt about it, I think it’s terrifying. If we were to live in a country where policemen were known to help and look out for you, it’d be awesome. In this country, where the sound of a high-cylinder motorcycle is associated with a raise in your heart rate and blood pressure, because they (police) tend to treat you so roughly, you can only get nervous and think of the negative consequences of dealing with them, or just consider it.. an abuse of power.” Arturo Roca Simmonds
“I think that it’s an unnecessary measure due the moment we are living. I have to think of people who live in high crime neighborhoods because police officers now can get anywhere without explanation. They have been recorded on the street showing very unprofessional behavior and now they are getting trusted with more power. It’s not easy to believe in the good cops. The institution itself must earn that trust again.” Liliana de La Hoz
For over 40 years, the National Police service has been following the same basic regulations, and now, at the request of the Santos government, a new set of regulations have been drafted, policies which much better suit the realities of our current world-view. With more than 200 updates, the new regulations expand the powers of police officers substantially.
As is common with any change in regulations, there are many critics, mainly focusing on the risk of abuse due to an increase in power. The question is whether there will be oversight and to what extent the police leadership will take ownership of problems which arise. Moreover, it remains to be seen how much effort is put into implementation and enforcement.
The new code is awaiting presidential affirmation and could be law as early as Christmas. Once the document has been signed, the Police leadership will have six months to complete officer training, and socialize the changes with the public.
Here’s a list of the most notable changes. Police will now be able to:
- levy fines for fighting and public disorder including circus acts by buskers (blowing fire, juggling, etc)
- stop and levy fines for even peaceful protests if an application to protest wasn’t made 48 hours previously
- forcibly remove and fine street vendors who have not obtained licenses
- cut-off electricity to places violating noise laws – and levy a fine up to 184,000 pesos.
- levy a fine of 360,000 pesos against Transmetro riders who force the doors or damage the bus
- levy fines of up to 657,000 pesos for discrimination against the LGBTI community
- levy fines of 92,000 pesos for traffic violations
- levy fines up to 735,000 pesos for littering and for disrespecting a police officer
Additionally, regulations have been added to the Act which:
- prohibit the sale of stolen goods including electronics
- prohibit the sale of any products on the streets
- require all restaurants to have public bathrooms
- make public drunkenness illegal and punishable
- prohibit the sale of goods on public transport
- require ‘dangerous dog’ breeds to be licensed
- prohibit unsanctioned graffiti