Nicaragua experienced a period of authoritarian government, civil war, and revolution that lasted into the late 1970’s. Nicaragua is Latin America’s second poorest country and is characterized by an unequal society with significant levels of migration to northern and neighboring countries. In spite of this, out-migration is less of a trend in Nicaragua than in nearby countries, possibly due to its low crime rate. This is largely attributed to the country’s well-regarded police forces, which utilize a grassroots (or bottom-up) approach to policing. Their approach is friendlier and less authoritative than those of neighboring countries, and is based on outreach, accessibility, and accountability. Additionally, efforts have been made to reduce crime and the recruitment of youth into street gangs through the employment of neighborhood councils, youth outreach, and specialized police stations for women. Finally, police forces incorporate a clear community orientation in their training programs, and have demonstrated internal willingness to receive citizen complaints against officers.
Nicaragua’s community-oriented policing model was established in 1979, following the Sandinista revolution. This approach to community-oriented policing (COP) is outlined through a plan known as the Plan de Accion y Exposicion ‘Policia-Comunidad’. It is available for NGOs and international development agencies to consider for further support.
Perceptions of Security and Insecurity
Largely due to these efforts, the majority of Nicaraguans report feeling safe in their neighborhoods, with only 1 in 10 reporting otherwise. However, there are still several concerns regarding security that can be linked to high levels of poverty within the country. Robberies and petty crimes remain a concern among the population, along with increased drug use and traffic accidents. Although unwanted sexual attention (be it verbal, gestures, or actions) is a constant complaint of women on the streets, in general, violent crime such as rape, physical assault, and crimes involving weapons are uncommon. Other concerns include organized crime activities, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking.
While these security concerns are very real, in general the perception of human security in Nicaragua is positive. Nicaraguans leaving the country tend to do so in search of better job opportunities, as opposed to fleeing from violent crime or general insecurity.
The primary security provider in Nicaragua is the National Police, which has a significant presence in all urban centers of the country. Through the application of community based policing, the National Police has been able to consolidate very strong contacts and working relationships with the community. In rural areas with a lower National Police presence, the national military will occasionally step in to provide local level security. Informal security providers exist in the country, including churches and church leaders that assist through mediation and crime prevention. Certain youth gangs are also involved in protection rackets, especially in rural areas. Finally, indigenous customary law often rivals national law in indigenous communities, particularly in the region on the Atlantic Coast.
Source: ICT4COP Research, NMBU
Photo: Police morning meeting, Bluefields, Nicaragua, February 2017. Photo credit: John Andrew McNeish