There were 5,278 murders in El Salvador in 2016, a rate of 80.97 per 100,000 inhabitants and a 20 percent decrease from 2015. This included 47 police officers, which represented a decrease from 62 in 2015. Despite this progress, perception of insecurity remains high, and ongoing gang violence, widespread extortion, and the accompanying lack of economic opportunity continues to drive illegal migration from El Salvador to the United States. INL helps El Salvador combat gangs and stop smugglers before they reach the United States.
In 2015 El Salvador developed a National Security Plan, “Plan Seguro,” focused on place-based violence prevention while the National Civil Police established a five-year plan based on smart policing principles. The Salvadoran President deployed the military with police to stop the violence, and the Supreme Court designated the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs as terrorist organizations. In April 2016, El Salvador passed a series of “emergency measures” to strengthen prison security and police operations, contributing to a significant drop in homicides.
El Salvador’s greatest challenge is a lack of resources to finance Plan Seguro, which requires $2.1 billion, or an equivalent of 8.7 percent of El Salvador’s GDP, over the next five years. In 2016, the government implemented a security tax on high-income earners and telecommunications providers, and used the tax revenue to fund police salary bonuses, supplement the Attorney General’s budget, and support prevention activities.
Border Security – INL is working with the National Civil Police (PNC) and migration authorities to professionalize border security, including improved infrastructure for police and K-9 inspection units at the border with Guatemala. INL also supports El Salvador’s Border Intelligence and Integration Task Force, through which Salvadoran analysts working directly with U.S. law enforcement since May 2017 have identified dozens of MS-13 gang members seeking to enter the United States illegally.
Model Precincts and Community Policing – INL funds instructors and advisors who provide oversight and training to the police in community-style policing, executive police decision making, and institutionalization of modern police philosophies. Community policing efforts are centralized in 11 main police delegations, with new equipment, trained personnel, and improved protocols instituted at 41 police stations across El Salvador.
Place-based Strategy (PBS) for Violence Prevention – The PBS, through INL and USAID collaboration, identifies key high-crime locations and people at-risk for criminal involvement to strategically implement a balanced and integrated set of public health and law enforcement interventions. PBS activities align with Plan Seguro locations. INL launched PBS sites in Ciudad Delgado, Zacatecoluca, and Lourdes-Colon, and will deepen engagement with police, schools, and civic organizations inside the 13 Plan Seguro sectors within these three municipalities.
Prison Reform – INL aims to strengthen corrections management systems to process individuals efficiently, securely, and humanely, and to support prisoner rehabilitation. INL arranged intelligence training for Salvadoran officials in Colorado, promoting coordination between prison intelligence units and the PNC. INL training helped El Salvador classify its inmate population, and facility renovations are providing more secure cell blocks for inmates classified as high risks. Two new grants to civil society will reintegrate into society inmates seeking to leave MS-13 and other gangs. One grant will speed parole processing at three overcrowded prisons, while the second identifies inmates actively seeking to leave gangs and helps place them with private-sector employers.
Vetted Units – Vetted Units of Salvadoran police and prosecutors, supported by U.S. law enforcement mentors from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)/Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), build Salvadoran capacity to pursue complex investigations. The FBI Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) unit is the lynchpin of bilateral and international law enforcement cooperation in attacking transnational criminal activities of criminal youth gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18.
Anti-extortion Task Forces – INL established a Business Crimes Task Force (BCTF) and a Transit Crimes Task Force (TCTF) to address widespread extortion of individual citizens and small-business owners, often cited by Salvadorans as their primary security concern and a major driver of migration. The San Salvador BCTF successfully dismantled four extortion networks organized by the transnational MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs, achieving a 96 percent conviction rate. In 2016, these units contributed to Operation Jaque, El Salvador’s first effort to dismantle MS-13 financial structures, and the Attorney General’s Office expanded the BCTF concept to 19 smaller “anti-extortion units” located in each of El Salvador’s 19 departments. In September 2017, the increasingly coordinated network of task forces operating in El Salvador executed a second MS-13 financial takedown, Operation Tecana, and contributed to Operation Escudo Regional, in which authorities coordinated to dismantle MS-13 cells across the Northern Triangle.
Anti-Corruption – INL works with the Attorney General to strengthen the Corruption Crimes Unit to investigate cases involving corrupt public officials with training from the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training, including support for financial investigations and the management of seized assets. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also supports a broad capacity building program to strengthen anti-corruption measures in the Ministry of Justice and Security, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Justice. INL works with the Embassy of Canada to train security personnel in VIP protection for prosecutors and judges who face risk of retaliation and in 2017 INL donated six armored vehicles to the Attorney General’s Office.
Youth Gang Prevention Programs – Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T) program and the Police Athletic League (PAL) program mitigate the influence of gangs and improve police-community collaboration. G.R.E.A.T programming enables police officers to teach youth life skills and provide them with skills to resist the pressure to join gangs. PAL, implemented with the help of local NGOs in El Salvador, operates using a similar principle: by organizing police-led after school programs and sporting events in high-crime neighborhoods, PALs keep youth off the streets and in a secure environment in which police are presented as role models and trustworthy figures.