Like Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Panama has comparatively lower levels of crime and violence within Central America. Despite this, the national homicide rate remains elevated at 17.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 (down from 19.3 in 2011), and the impact of organized and common crime represents a significant challenge. High rates of assaults, robberies and thefts have a clear impact upon the security perception of the local population due to their nature, and in recent years there has been a growth in both the number of gangs and violent conflict in certain urban areas. This has provoked a response from the State in the form of prevention programs and the development of some community policing experiences.
Panama presents a certain concentration of security forces under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Security, while civil protection and the penitentiary system are placed under the Ministry of Interior. The Office of the President intervenes beyond its general administrative function as head of government by promoting prevention programs that are carried out through the National Security Council. These programs have an inter-institutional character, and several of them are carried out with international cooperation.
• Public Force: composed of the National Police, the National Aero-Naval Service, the National Border Service, and the Institutional Protection Service (which is a dependent of the Presidency).
• Ministry of Public Security: it is responsible for the Public Force and the National Immigration Service (which is not a police body). It chairs the Cabinet of Preventive Security, created in 2012 as an inter-institutional body that establishes guidelines for prevention and citizen security.
• Ministry of Interior: responsible for the administration of the penitentiary system, including the custody of minors through the Institute of Inter- disciplinary Studies. The Fire Department and Civil Protection System are found here.
• Office of the President: it has the Institutional Protection Service as well as the National Public Security Council. The National Program for the Prevention of Violence and Juvenile Delinquency and the Darién Development Program (border with Colombia) are coordinated from here.
• National Security Council: the highest consultative and advisory body of the President to establish and articulate public security and national defence policy. It is chaired by the President.
• Office of the Public Prosecutor: the Attorney General directs the pros- ecution and investigation of crimes and is responsible for the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. Since its inception in 1994 it presides the National Commission for the Study and Prevention of Drug-Related Crimes (CONAPRED) and the National Commission for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation Crimes (CONAPREDES), installed in 2005, which are inter-institutional State bodies.
• Human Rights Ombudsman: created in 1997, it is responsible for investigating, reconciling or denouncing the actions or omissions of public servants that may constitute violation of human rights. Coordinates the Panamanian Gender Violence Observatory, created institutionally in 2009.
The Public Force of Panama is divided into 3 principal police institutions: the National Police, the National Border Service (SENAFRONT) and the National Aero-Naval Service (SENAN). The National Police is the principal body charged with tasks of internal order and the protection of the lives, property and rights of those under the State’s jurisdiction. Law 69 of December 27th 2007 created the Directorate of Judicial Investigation within its structure, which acts as a judicial investigation police and is an auxiliary body to the Judiciary and the Office of the Public Prosecutor, assisting in criminal investigations and apprehensions.
SENAN is charged with safeguarding the country’s airspace and provide policing duties on the islands and coasts, while SENAFRONT is in charge of border protection. The Public Force is located within the Ministry of Public Security.
Panama in “The Public Security Index”
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