Transforming policing in Honduras

Police officer standing in front of classroom of students (U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa)
A member of the Honduran National Police helps students in Tegucigalpa to resist gangs. (U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa)

Expectations were high when Lorenzo Pineda started his tenure this year as police commander in Rivera Hernández.

Sure, Rivera Hernández was one of the most violent neighborhoods in Honduras’ most violent city, San Pedro Sula. But Pineda, a 47-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Honduran National Police, had previously served in leadership positions for the force in nearby Chamelecón, and during his time there, the murder rate fell by a third in just three years.

Pineda was an effective officer. He had even recently been named a mentor to a graduating high school class.

Eight months after starting the new job, Pineda has met expectations: Homicide rates in Rivera Hernández are way down, and police-citizen relations are at an all-time high.

A big reason for Pineda’s success is a type of policing that the Honduran National Police force is implementing in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. Known as the “Modelo Catracho” (Honduran model), this strategy prioritizes building relationships among law enforcement officers and members of the local community.

Guidance from the State Department has helped in the design and implementation of police reforms in Honduras and elsewhere in Central America. Ongoing U.S. support to the Honduran National Police includes training, equipment, logistical support and outreach assistance.

Commander Pineda, seated (U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa)
Commander Pineda (U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa)

The Modelo Catracho carves up large municipalities into subsections and assigns officers to permanently patrol those smaller areas. “This way, the police can better get to know their community, and the community better know their police,” Pineda says. “Building this trust is important for the police to detect and deter crime.”

Police patrol data-driven “hot-spots” and work restructured shift schedules to ensure 24-hour coverage of patrol areas.

Supporters of the program say Pineda has earned his reputation as one of the most innovative police officials in the region. “You can’t do this job from behind a desk, especially in a place like Rivera Hernández,” says Daniel Pacheco, a local pastor. “And Pineda understands that. He’s out in the community, talking with people and encouraging his police to do the same. That’s what makes him different.”

Pineda also sends his officers into local schools, where they teach gang resistance classes, organize after-school activities and single out at-risk children for extra attention. A similar community policing effort is underway, with U.S. assistance, in Guatemala, focusing on police patrol on bikes.

“We as police officers are members of this community,” Pineda says. He recalls that earlier in his 26-year career as a law enforcement officer, the relationship between police and the community was very different. “The police used to operate and feel like a separate entity. That doesn’t work.”