High rates of street crime, brought about by poverty and drugs, has led to significant increases in police recruiting and deployment throughout Ecuador. I must add that this policing initiative is balanced, in part, by programs to reduce poverty.
What does increased police presence mean for travellers?
Most noticeable are Transit police, seemingly on every main street in cities and on the major highways. Almost all wear bright yellow florescent vests, whether they are from the National Police, wearing Khaki uniforms or city police, in Quito, wearing blue uniforms.
Recognizing the importance of tourism and national image, officers from both forces saturate main tourist areas.
What should you expect from them?
I confess at the outset to thinking of police as my friends; there to help me unless there is strong reason to believe otherwise. Are they corrupt?
I witnessed an expat offer a police officer a monetary bribe in an attempt to avoid having his car seized for driving during restricted peak hours. The officer was polite, smiling and, in every way, professional as he proceeded to perform his duty.
I have also approached about a dozen officers from both the national and municipal police to make inquiries or complaints. In every instance, they were friendly and smiling, offering whatever information they could. To say, however, that I have not heard first hand reports of bad behaviour would not be honest.
The problem comes when they are asked or expected to do something besides promenading along sidewalks or, routinely, drive around with their lights flashing. Patrolling appears to be just one giant social event in which they pass the time with their friends.
It should be known that, in this public forum, the national and city police do not associate with each other. Both can be seen at the same intersections directing traffic or walking along streets. They do not speak to each other or walk together. Each sticks with his/ her own kind. It is not uncommon to see police officers of these forces waving at traffic on opposite sides of the same intersection. While this behaviour does not directly impact on travellers, it is something to note. I have tried to get various police officers to explain their apparent overlap of responsibilities; but, without success. The average officer just does not know.
Within the past year, the national police have become highly visible on Saturday nights in La Ronda, a must visit colonial street in the historic centre of Quito. Dressed in their formal uniform, high, polished black boots, ceremonial swords and capes, they stroll along chatting to each other and posing for photos. I am sure that the possibility of being skewared by a police sword gives thieves second thought. Their presence also led to a coincidental augmentation of city police in their daily blue work uniforms. Still, they do not associate with each other.
I once joked that I was always careful crossing streets and would be on the lookout for red light runners, proceeding after the first five or six. Drivers know that, even when there is a police officer in the intersection, he and his friends near-by will only wave them through. There will be no enforcement action. I have spoken to several police officers after witnessing this lack of response and received only smiles and “Thanks for reporting this to us” comments.
Having two or three cars abreast, turning/ passing on your right as you make a left hand turn onto a narrow street is equally common and unsanctioned.
Why isn’t there more law enforcement? Perhaps this is a cultural norm; or, because the worst offenders of traffic laws are the police.
What should visitors expect from police in Quito? Apart from friendliness,- “Nothing !” Consider them as congenial information providers. Without great expectations, you will not be disappointed.
Click RSS Icon to automatically follow Andre's Blog.
Follow Andre on Twitter