Responsabilidad Policial en Democracia – Una propuesta para América Latina (Police Responsiblities in Democracy – A Proposal for Latin America) by Fernando Martínez, Alejandra Mohor, Ximena Tocornal, Robert Varenick and others. Ernesto López Portillo Vargas and Hugo Frühling Editores, Mexico, 2008, pag. 253.

This very interesting book was written not only with the purpose of giving a theoretical approach to the topic, but also of learning and teaching. The first thing that you realize when you start reading it is that the book has signs and landmarks in order to show you the meaning of “relevant information”, “topics for discussion”, “points of reflection” , “integration exercises”, “informative charts” and “case studies”, as well as distinguishing the real cases from the hypothetical ones.

At the same time, it provides the reader with a pedagogical frame, indicating which topics may be used for discussion and debating, and which for reflecting. This way the book is useful for being used in a classroom, with students, or in order to teach and be discussed at the police academy. In fact, the book was written with the help of a Pedagogic Counselor, Ms. Mariana Morales.

The book is divided into six chapters, written by different authors. That offers the reader a different approach to the topic, not only for the diversity of the writers – some of them are academics, others from the public sector and some NGOs – but also because the authors come from different countries – Chile, USA, Peru and Mexico.

The first chapter “Elementos Introductorios – Hacia una concepción de la Responsabilidad Social” – Introductory elements – Toward a conception of a social responsibility – written by Mr.Fernando Martinez Mercado, Mrs. Alejandra Mohor Bellalta and Mrs. Ximena Tocornal Mont, all of them from Chile, deals with the accountability issue. They explain that the complex situation in which police officers develop their jobs requires an “integral vision” that should be taken care of regarding different elements in order to evaluate police behavior.

The chapter includes a chart suggesting a “conduct code” for police officers. Besides, the authors have analyzed diverse situations in which they consider the use of deadly weapons legal, emphasizing on the respect for laws. It is interesting to note that Chile, as almost all Latin American countries, suffered a military dictatorship during the 80´s.

Furthermore, they explain the difference between the internal control that every police force should have, and the external ones.

The second and third chapters were written by Mr. Robert Varenick. The second one deals specifically with the schemes of internal control of the police power. Among other things, he provides and explains a real study case which involved the London Metropolitan Police.

The third one is about external supervision. He explains the three basic models of external supervision and its combinations, focusing on the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) of San José, California, USA.

The fourth chapter analyzes the weaknesses of the Judicial and Legislative supervision over the police force. The author – Mr. Todd Foglesong – illustrates the challenges that the institutions face in order to have an effective control over the police force. He introduces some concepts such as “delegated supervision” and “direct or indirect supervision” and describes the “preventive”, “reactive” and “prescriptive” revision of police acts.

He asks himself about the roles of the judicial revision and the legislative supervision in a liability system, and how all of this has affected and helped democratic institutions. Besides, he provides a chart explaining and comparing the basic functions of the police in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Chile and Russia. Moreover, he also mentions who appoints police authorities in these countries. He concludes considering that getting accurate information is one of the best ways to control police forces.

Chapter five deals with the help NGOs provide in order to control police forces. The authors – Mr. Ernesto Cárdenas, Ms. Antia Mendoza, Mr. Carlos Silva and Mr. Luis Villalobos, all of them from different Mexican NGOs – outline the role that many Latin American NGOs have had in controlling the police, and in of human rights protection in the new Latin American democracies. Besides, they consider specifically the case of the “Instituto para la Seguridad y Democracia” – INSYDE- of Mexico.

The last chapter, written by Mr. Gino Costa and Mr. Carlos Romero from Peru, introduces the topic of corruption in the police forces. They show the goals achieved in the fight against corruption, the difficulties that the controls faced and the lesson learned.

The book is easy to read and is well organized. The main topic “Police Responsibility in Democracy” is developed in all the chapters, putting emphasis in the internal and external control that every police power should have.

Besides, it shows the main and common issues that Latin American countries face. Nevertheless, it seems that the book was written for students at a Police Academy or Law School because some of the concepts are basic and simple, but well and pedagogically explained. It is a good overview of the Latin American problem, but as many publications, the book does not make a clear difference among Latin American countries, considering them equals. Reality shows that the situation in some countries, for example, Brazil, is very different from Uruguay, or Colombia, or Peru. Anyway, in my opinion it is an excellent introductory book, very recommendable for discussion with students.

Sebastián Sal, Professor at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Partner at Sal & Morchio Attorneys at Law.