As Panama incrementally introduces the accusatorial criminal justice system into its provinces, police in those areas have had to adapt to new procedures. “The new Criminal Procedure Code has very clear rules about arrests, the search of vehicles and crime-scene processing,” says Emanuel. “This requires the police to become more technical, more creative and more proactive. ABA ROLI trainings offer insight into the role of police in a democratic society.”
ABA ROLI supports the transition, including by training police officers on the accusatorial system, on proper police conduct under the system, and on the protection and preservation of crime scenes. These trainings, which emphasize the importance of respecting and protecting the human rights of all citizens as police carry out their duties, are paying off.
On November 16, 2012, Emanuel and Thomas Cullen, ABA ROLI country director in Panama, were abruptly stopped at a police checkpoint while they returned from an ABA ROLI-organized interagency workshop for drug prosecutors and police. As part of an investigation into a case, police were trying to locate a vehicle that was used in an assault. The officer in charge completed his investigation and let Emanuel and Tom could go, saying that they were stopped because their vehicle matched the description of the car a suspect was driving.
Emanuel says that he was glad that the police officer took the assault case seriously, and that he properly followed the standard operating procedure for checkpoints. Emanuel says that the incident was an “unscheduled field verification,” as the experience provided anecdotal evidence of the impact that ABA ROLI’s work is having on promoting respect for human rights during the implementation of the accusatorial system.
The occurrence reminds Emanuel why he—years ago—joined the police force, and the difference his current work is making in how ordinary Panamanians interact with those charged with protecting them. Emanuel says, “My experience with the Panamanian police has been a great challenge and, above all, a rewarding experience.”
Since October 2011, ABA ROLI has trained 2,057 police officers in the accusatorial criminal justice system. Over the next 18 months, ABA ROLI will continue training police officers as the accusatorial system is introduced to more parts of the country.
To learn more about our work in Panama, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].