Through Sweden’s National Police Board, co-operation has grown around neighbourhood police models, reforms and modernization of the police authority, as well as investments in gender equality issues.
Photo: Ylva Sahlstrand/Sida
Nicaraguan police focus on preventative work with Swedish police
“I think that, above all, the preventative model is what separates us from other countries and has worked better in the work against violence and narcotics,” said Aminta Granera, Nicaragua’s chief of police, on a recent visit to Sweden.
Granera has been in her position since 2006, after spending 30 years in the police force. And she has been ranked as Nicaragua’s most popular person – a popularity from which the entire force can benefit. Nicaragua is different to the rest of the Central American region in the sense that it works with a preventative approach and is “multi-disciplinarian” as Granera calls it.
Sweden has been supporting the Nicaraguan police force since the early 1990s and through Sweden’s National Police Board, co-operation has grown around neighbourhood police models, reforms and modernization of the police authority, as well as investments in gender equality issues.
An important part of the work has been the neighbourhood police model, which includes the family violence units. This is where vulnerable women and children receive professional help in reporting attacks and driving criminal proceedings against the perpetrators. As well as specially trained female police officers, these units contain psychologists and social workers.
Maria Tegborg, Sida’s country director for Nicaragua, said during Granera’s visit: “The number of attacks reported has increased thanks to the units.
“It has also meant that men, women and children have become more aware that violence in the home is a crime. This is the result that has come through in an evaluation of Sweden’s support, which the Nicaraguan police are highlighting.”
The family violence units also do psychosocial work with families who are exposed to violence, which has contributed to a reduction in violence. This co-operation between the police, social workers and psychologists is something that is repeated throughout the entire co-operation with the police. Granera particularly wants to highlight the police’s work with young people.
“In Nicaragua, we don’t have the same problems as other Central American countries with Maras (gangs), which is a result of our work,” she says. “We must catch the young people who are outcasts and excluded from society and create employment together with them.”
Granera says that more than 10,000 young people are working with the police to prevent crime and the dangerous forming of gangs. This is also co-ordinated with other departments. Unlike other countries’ methods, so called “mano-dura” (firm hand), where young people are quickly thrown into jail because they have committed a crime, the Nicaraguan police force quickly catches young people in the risk zone.
These are models that the Swedish police force has also adopted.
Mats Palmgren, chief superintendent at Sweden’s National Police Board, says: “When we began working in the country, Swedish crime-prevention work was connected to creating a safe environment. In Nicaragua, they focused on the individual instead, which we haven’t prioritized so highly in Sweden.”
Palmgren says that Nicaragua had greater success in its work with young people. And Swedish police have only started approaching young people in a similar way to the Nicaraguan police in recent years.
“The model that we’ve chosen in the Västra Götaland region is very closely connected to the Nicaraguan model,” he says.
The cooperation with the Nicaraguan police has played an important role in Sweden’s focus on human rights and democracy efforts in the country. The judiciary in Nicaragua is politically managed and is struggling with serious corruption problems. But the police have a more independent and neutral position, which has made the cooperation easier.
Granera wants to carefully but clearly highlight the independent role as invaluable, especially in maintaining the confidence of the people.
“Despite the difficult situation in the country, we must fight to be neutral,” she says. “We must continue to move forward, develop and think strategically.”
Now that Sweden is ending its development assistance to Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan police force must find new co-operational partners. Sweden and the Nicaraguan police are therefore working together so that other donors will give broad and long-term programme support to guarantee the institution’s operations. Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain are some of those already included in the group.
Julia Ekstedt, first secretary at Sida’s office in Managua who is responsible for the cooperation, says: “From the Swedish side, we’re positive about the future of the Nicaraguan police. The population, the government and other donors have great confidence in the police and it is a solid institution that is constantly striving for improvement.”
Sweden is also supporting a systematization of the neighbourhood police model. The ideas around this will now be spread in the region.
“The tripartite cooperation has been discussed with some countries in the region, like the one in Rwanda,” Palmgren says.
The National Police Board and Sida are observers in the regional police commission. Granera is chairman of the commission, which gives her an advantage in spreading the positive experiences from Nicaraguan models. She also wants to focus on regional work in the meantime, especially considering the problems with the narcotics trade.