May 7, 2013

Tribute to a fallen police officer - Edgardo Galdámez

Edgardo Galdámez Vásquez

Yesterday afternoon I was reading "El precio de ser policía en Honduras" (The price of being a police officer in Honduras) on Proceso Digital. The article states that an average of 5.4 Honduran police officers are murdered every month and that violence has taken the lives of 130 police in the past two years. Based on what has come to light in the past two years regarding police corruption, when we read about police murders, we can't help but wonder, "Was he killed because he was involved in illegal activities with the wrong people or was it because he couldn't be bought or intimidated?"

Countrywide, Honduras' murder rate is about 85.5 per 100,000 compared to a worldwide average of about 8 per 100,000. Considering that there are only about 14,000 Honduran police, 65 murders per year puts their murder rate at 464.3 per 100,000. And that means that a Honduran police officer is 58 times more likely to be murdered than the average world citizen. Not good odds, especially considering that most of the police make at or close to minimum wage, the equivalent of about US $350 per month, from which they have to buy their own uniforms, boots, and even bullets.

The article went on to discuss the Thursday murder of the Chief of Vehicle Robbery Section of the DNIC (criminal investigation unit), Edgardo Ulises Galdámez Vásquez. He was also a trainer at the police academy and in the field offices. Galdámez was assassinated in the usual paid assassin fashion, by two men on a motorcycle. By all accounts that I read, he was one of the good guys. Proceso Digital wrote that he was considered to be an honest official with a clean service record.

Shortly after that, I received an email from a reader confirming that Edgardo Galdámez was a good, honest man. The reader is involved with training police in Central America and other countries and for security reasons, I've chosen to not mention her name. I'll call her Karen.

Nothing I could write could compare to the power of Karen's own words, so I present them to you here:

Querida Gringa,

Edgardo Galdámez Vásquez
I just learned about the murder of a colleague in Honduras. A great police offer, 41-year old Edgardo Galdámez, was gunned down on Thursday evening in Tegucigalpa. Edgardo and I worked side-by-side as instructors in Tegus, San Pedro and La Ceiba just a few months ago.

Please consider posting a blog about this terrible loss. Having personally known him, I can assure you that I care not because he was a police officer, but because he was one of the best and brightest in Honduras. He was honest to a fault. He struggled to professionalize the police force in Honduras.

In spite of what he called "rampant corruption", he was very successful in teaching many techniques of crime scene investigation. I can only hope that the best of those techniques are now being utilized to punish his murderers. If anything, it would make his life and his struggle so much more meaningful.

In the US, when an officer is killed, even if it's not "in the line of duty," all his/her fellow police officers wear a black armband reading the Latin inscription "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit". This means "no one harms me with impunity". This attitude is crucial to maintain and support the rule of law. Because the death of any human is a tragedy that can destroy an entire family, even a whole community. But the murder of a police officer is a crime against all the citizens, as our safety depends on his/her protection and service.

I did not meet his family, but if you read the comments section of the newspaper post, you will see a comment apparently made by his widow. I say apparently, as I cannot confirm the identity of the author.

Edgardo and I, together with another colleague who will remain unnamed to protect her safety, collaborated in a national effort to instruct rank-and-file police officers about how to treat a crime scene in a professional manner. We also had participants from the Ministerio Público and the press.

Edgardo had a fascinating knowledge about ballistics, as well as the protection and correct processing of a crime scene. He was a champion of the rule of law and the importance of correctly processing a crime scene to ensure that the criminals were caught, prosecuted and punished. He would say to the training participants, "We can catch the right criminal, but without processing, cataloging and preserving the evidence, there is no conviction. Without a conviction, there is no punishment. Impunity engenders corruption because with it there is no rule of law."

Edgardo developed dozens of mock crime scenes to train police officers and investigators in all of Honduras. He selected participants at random to play the roles of passerby, victim, police officer, investigator, reporters and family members. He demonstrated how to be stern, yet compassionate with family members who tried to get close to murder victims. He would tell of a time when the family members of a murder victim in a small village, not only impeded the investigation, but even chased the handful of law-enforcement representatives out of the village. Out-numbered and out-gunned, they had no option but to leave town without investigating.

He was adamant about using the correct terminology for everything. That's how many learned the term "tanatocronodiagnóstico", a scientifically accurate word to name the "time of death". He would pop-quiz participants and everyone would laugh at the first futile attempts of some trainees to utter such a mouthful.

He was passionate, gentle, and honest. And dead serious about his work. No one would have ever guessed he would play the victim at an actual crime scene. We still can't believe it. May he rest in peace, wherever he is. As for the rest of his colleagues, I beg them to to investigate this case so scrupulously that it would make him proud.


The comment from Edgardo's widow referred to above was this:

El era mi esposo, no saben el dolor tan grande que ha causado a mi hijo, a mi, y al resto de la familia, pido justicia y que Dios bendiga a los asesinos de la muerte de mi esposo, dañaron mi vida y la de mi hijo, no es justo que los delincuentes estén dejando tantas viudas e hijos huérfanos por unos miserables pesos, pido oración por todos los hondureños, especialmente por las esposas e hijos de los policías que día a día arriesgan su vida por defender a la de los demás.


He was my husband You don't know the great pain that this has caused my son, me, and the rest of the family. I ask for justice and that God bless those assassins of the death of my husband. This has damaged my life and that of my son. It is not right that the criminals are leaving so many widows and orphaned children, especially for the wives and children of police that day after day risk their life to defend that of others.


Every year in Honduras, hundreds of thousands of wives, mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, and friends suffer this pain and the further indignant pain of being impotent to see that justice will be done. In the vast majority of cases, justice will not be done in Honduras.

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