The state-run criminal justice system in Peru seems to be quite unsatisfactory. The police forces are reportedly corrupt, and the officials are not only indifferent toward local crime but they are known to botch criminal investigations.
While Peru's crime rate is not as bad as its Latin American neighbors, the situation is still pretty awful. But instead of sitting around and demanding the government to step up, the citizens of Peru have taken matters into their own hands. In order to protect themselves and punish the criminals for their wrongdoings, the residents are coming together to form vigilante movements, a trend that seems to be gaining traction through Facebook.
These self-styled police groups have been active in the country for quite some time now, but campaign’s origin can be traced back to a woman named Cecelia Rodriguez, according to the BBC. Apparently, Rodriguez’s neighbor found a thief in her house in Huancayo, whom Cecilia and other residents apprehended and held for two hours until the cops arrived and took him away.
However, Rodriguez soon discovered that the police had released the burglar, prompting her to take action.
“From that day onwards, we decided to spread the message in the community – that next time we catch a criminal, we won't call the police but we will punish them ourselves,” she explained.
She set up a Facebook page called “Catch your thief,” hoping for the community to band together and fight the crime. She called on for others to follow her lead and soon enough, more than a hundred similar pages had popped on social media, vowing to fight for the same cause.
Now, in accordance with Peru’s law, citizens are allowed to detain someone if they believe him to be guilty, but they are prohibited from harming them – in fact, hurting the apprehended person or even encouraging others to do so could lead to a long jail sentence. On the other hand, this law gives public the right to arrest thieves and criminals, making these vigilante groups legitimate.
“Basically there are problems within our police forces. Sometimes their reach is limited, there aren't enough men on the ground,” explained Peruvian Interior Minister Jose Luis Perez Guadalupe. “We've had the issue here in Peru of fine-tuning the coordination between the police, the public prosecutor, and the judiciary. So I would say these three institutions share the responsibility on that matter.”
These vigilante movements have turned out to be quite effective, as the crime rate has dropped considerably over the last few months. However, there’s one major drawback: These groups frequently tend to get violent.
Their job is not limited to catch thieves and interrogate them anymore. As it turns out, these people have taken it upon themselves to punish individuals without a criminal trial to determine if they are actually guilty. In some cases, the members of vigilante movements have reportedly gone too far by disfiguring or harming the alleged thieves.
Still, the interior minister claims isn't entirely down on the vigilante movement. In fact, he believes he actually wants to “harness its energy, and endorse the notion of citizen's arrests.”
“Catch your thief yes, but hand him or her over to the police. Don't take justice into your own hands,” Guadalupe added.
A few weeks ago, a vigilante group organized by the campesino communities in the province of Cajamarca punished two alleged thieves by forcing them to stand on anthills until they begged for mercy.
Since the fear of retribution from the criminals themselves is not much high by the regional standards in Peru, the vigilante groups formed on social media have become rather powerful. The other factor in the rapid rise of these groups is the fact that police rarely interfere in their matters, leaving the citizens to apprehend and punish alleged criminals and wrongdoers on their own – a system that has both its perks and downsides.