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January 31, 2011

Interview: Panamanian Police Officers Share How ABA ROLI Has Improved Their Work

January 2011

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) Panama program assists local institutions, including the National Police, in protecting human rights and guaranteeing due process under the country’s new oral, adversarial criminal justice system. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. ABA ROLI is helping boost practical knowledge and skills through a series of training workshops and the dissemination of the ABA ROLI co-developed manual on crime secene protection and preservation.

These efforts help ensure proper application of Panama’s revised Criminal Procedure Code during criminal investigations and have already had a large impact on the daily work of police officers. Lieutenant Ricardo Davis and Sub Commissioner Jacinto Gomez are two of 70 Panamanian National Police officers who took part in ABA ROLI training last year.

ABA ROLI recently followed up with Davis and Gomez to learn how ABA ROLI’s training has impacted their work.

Gomez: I keep several aspects of the training fresh in my mind.  Among them, I find it particularly important to be aware of human rights matters and the similarities between the new Panamanian judicial norms and international standards.  The training is also very important to understand due process and the legal phases of the new criminal procedure, including the formalization of the investigation, charging, hearings, oral trial and restitution.

Davis: The training was fundamental to learn the new legal concepts, to understand that all police actions are bound by law and that police should respect and apply the law in all circumstances.  A good example is when we enter a suspect’s home, as it can only be done with the appropriate legal authorization; we should not force our way in without that authorization.  This knowledge helps us avoid the risk of compromising the judicial case.

Overall, ABA ROLI’s training helps us police officers understand the rules with which we need to comply.  Generating a good understanding and awareness of the rules during the training also helps us disseminate appropriate practices to fellow officers.  

Gomez:  I often use the knowledge acquired in the trainings in my personal and professional life, particularly when I arrive in the scene of a crime.  It is now easier to avoid making mistakes that could potentially compromise the judicial process. 

Also, I find it very important to share this knowledge with my colleagues who didn’t participate in the training.  Now I know that if I have a doubt about my duties or responsibilities under the new legal system, I can find the answer in the new Criminal Procedure Code.

ABA ROLI’s training of police officers will continue in the months ahead as we conduct additional workshops for the National Police and other officials involved in the administration of criminal justice in Panama. 

To learn more about our work in Panama, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.