Statistics point toward police abuses in El Salvador

The National Civilian Police (PNC) and armed forces of El Salvador have killed 693 alleged gang members in armed confrontations in the past twenty months since the government declared "war" on the gangs in January 2015.   The pace of the deaths of gang members has increased significantly in 2016 with 424 deaths of gang members at the hands of security forces this year.

A statistical analysis of these confrontations and deaths performed by El Faro supports the thesis that the security forces are making disproportionate use of assault rifles and committing extra-judicial executions.

One measure is the index of "lethality" or the ratio of subjects killed and wounded in confrontations between gangs and the police.   In the past 20 months, there were 1074 armed confrontations, leaving 693 dead gang members and 255 wounded, an index of lethality of 2.72.  In other words, for every one gang member who was captured wounded, there were 2.72 killed.   For the first 8 months of 2016, the lethality index has risen to 3.1.

According to El Faro, international experts say that military or security conflicts should never have an index higher than one.  For some comparisons, the war in Vietnam had a lethality index of 0.25, the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 1982 had a ratio of 0.22, and in Chicago between 2010 and 2015 the index of lethality for police shootings was 0.54.

Another statistic reviewed is the ratio of police and military deaths to the number of gang member deaths.   In 2015, 13 police and 4 soldiers died in El Salvador and through August 2016, 4 police and 3 soldiers had been killed in confrontations with gangs.   In 2016, that produces a ration of one member of the security forces killed to 53 gang members killed.   In contrast, during Mexico's war against narco-traffickers from 2011-2013, the average ratio was 20:1.

In another comparison, one would expect more suspects captured than killed in confrontations with security forces, but in El Salvador, more gang members were killed than captured in the reported conflicts.

Another statistic is the level of deaths of civilians at the hands of state agents per 100,000 inhabitants.   In Brazil in 2014, the ratio was 1.5 per 100,000 inhabitants and in the urban areas of Rio, the ratio was 3.5.  In contrast in 2015 in El Salvador the ratio was 5.0 in 2015 and is on its way to reach 8.6 in 2016.    These statistics from professor Ignacio Cano of the State University of Rio de Janeiro who was consulted by El Faro.

El Faro published denials from the officials with the security forces who assert that police and military respond with appropriate force only when they are attacked.    Similarly, the attorney general's office denies that it has turned a blind eye on excessive force and extra-judicial executions.    Both sectors of government see little reason to change when there is popular opinion which supports
such methods in the battle to confront gang violence.

Finally, InsightCrime reports:
In contrast to the increasing number of confrontations between gangs and police, murders have continued to decline nationwide from the high-water mark of 2015 and early 2016, when El Salvador's homicide rate surpassed 100 per 100,000 citizens. Cotto said homicides are down 50 percent so far this month compared to September 2015. From January to March of this year, El Salvador registered on average between 20 and 24 homicides per day, but since April that number has fallen to between 11 and 13 per day. 
The government draws the conclusion that its lethal approaches to crime are working.