“I need you to help me,” said one participant, tears streaming down her face. She described to her fellow National Civil Police graduates how she applies the same anger and aggression to her family that she uses with thieves on the streets. “I am the same with my children. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
This woman is one of 90 police officers (23 women, 67 men) who took a Basic Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) workshop since January 2017 in Guatemala City. AVP Guatemala partnered with the National Civil Police Chaplain to work with recent police graduates after 14 officers committed suicide in 2016. By the end of July, all 90 of the same group will complete an Advanced workshop.
The National Civil Police force is infamous for being corrupt, violent, abusive, and arrogant. “When we see a police officer, we immediately think that they don’t have values or principles, that they believe they have power over people and can do whatever they want,” said AVP Guatemala National Coordinator Lorena Escobar.
After the first day of the first workshop, it became very clear to Escobar that each participant was living with ongoing trauma and didn’t receive proper training or support from the government.
“There is a lot of violence thrown at them daily. Many times they arrive at a crime scene and don’t know if they will leave alive,” Escobar explained. “Sometimes they find a woman cut into pieces. They don’t even see (others) as human anymore. They have to desensitize themselves, but the trauma never stops because they live something new every day.”
The typical National Civil Police Officer is underpaid and lacks updated weapons, technology, and crucial training to give them the skills to face widespread violence. The National Civil Police is hugely understaffed, especially in Guatemala City’s growing metropolis with an estimated 100 deaths per week caused primarily by gang violence, drug trafficking, and violent crimes.