What’s Going On With Ecuador’s Police?

Global Integrity
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In 2008, Global Integrity completed its first-ever assessment of Somalia. Somalia’s overall score of 35 earned it the distinction of the lowest in the history of the Global Integrity Report. This is to be expected in a nation where the government has no presence and is unable to enforce whatever weak legal framework does exist.

How then did Somalia and Ecuador receive similar scores for law enforcement? What is going on in Ecuador?

One of the 23 sub-categories of the Global Integrity Report’s data for a country measures the effectiveness of accountability safeguards covering national law enforcement. These indicators evaluate the politicization of the police force, the safeguards in place to monitor its operations, and the agency’s level of public accountability.

Our 2008 data from Ecuador paints a bleak picture. The police force is highly politicized. The President must approve the appointment of all heads of police departments, while lower-level hiring decisions are largely based on cronyism and nepotism. This creates a dynamic where law enforcement officials are more accountable to influential politicians than to Ecuadorian citizens. There is no mechanism to investigate citizen complaints against police and no internal mechanism (an internal affairs division, for instance) to investigate corrupt police. In addition, police officers enjoy a high level of impunity. Global Integrity’s researcher writes: “Criminal proceedings for law enforcement officials are held under a specific jurisdiction run by their institutions, with different rules and procedures from the regular criminal jurisdiction.”

Looking only at the numbers, the situation in Somalia appears similar. The one exception is that in law, Somalia has a mechanism to hear and address citizen concerns about the police force. As one could have guessed, this does not function in practice, and neither does the law enforcement agency in general. There is a lack of government presence in much of the country, as can be seen in the highly publicized pirating of ships off the Somali coast, and the funding received by the police force is just as irregular as that of other government agencies.

Despite the similarity in scores between these two countries’ law enforcement agencies, the reality on the ground is different. Ecuador has a functioning police force, Somalia does not. While police officers in both nations enjoy a certain level of privilege above the law, their impunity stems from different places: Ecuadorian police officers have political connections within the powerful executive branch which allow them to bypass certain levels of accountability, while Somali police officers have very little government backing, making them largely unaccountable simply due to a lack of institutional framework.

One take-away from this analysis is that that numbers alone cannot provide a full picture when it comes to governance and corruption analysis. While these countries’ law enforcement scores (Ecuador: 17 and Somalia: 13) appear to reflect comparable situations, the reality in Ecuador is vastly different than that in Somalia. Yes, the anti-corruption safeguards are weak in both law enforcement agencies, but the reasons for and the manifestations of that weakness become clear only when the scores are unpacked with accompanying narrative comments.

For more on Global Integrity’s emphasis on qualitative scoring and our overall methodology, see our white paper.

Norah Mallaney and Global Integrity Staff

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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