In the second week of February 2020, I had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia as a guest of Major Efren Munoz of the National Police of Colombia. He is a leader in the National Police of Colombia and provided the opportunity for Criminal Justice Program Director Dr. Chuck Russo and I to participate in tours at the General Prosecution Office of the Nation, the Anti-Narcotics Directorate, and the Criminal Investigation Directorate and INTERPOL. Little did any of us know how both of our countries were about to change due to the oncoming coronavirus pandemic.
A Look at the Coronavirus Pandemic in the US
Even before our trip to Colombia began, the United States had its first confirmed coronavirus case in the state of Washington in late January from a person who had recently returned from Wuhan, China. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the United States had a total number of 14 coronavirus cases in six states from January 21 to February 23, with 12 cases involving travelers arriving from China.
By March, major steps were taken in the United States to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, including international travel restrictions for non-U.S. citizens. The CDC Director also issued a No Sail Order on March 14 for cruise ships and quarantines occurred throughout the United States.
On April 3, the CDC provided guidance for the use of cloth face coverings in public areas to reduce the spread of the virus. However, cases continued to surge.
Schools shifted to remote learning, and the United States saw a substantial increase of employees telecommuting from home to control the spread of the coronavirus. Governments established a phased approach to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, and a substantial amount of responsibility has been left to individual states to determine what should be open and what should remain closed. As of September 22, the United States has had 7,046,216 confirmed coronavirus cases with 204,506 deaths.
A Look at the Coronavirus Pandemic in Colombia
The coronavirus entered Colombia through the El Dorado International Airport located in Bogotá. In this city, the first coronavirus case was confirmed by health authorities on March 6.
The first measures adopted by the Colombian government to contain the spread of coronavirus included the lockdown of Colombia’s largest cities and municipalities, mandatory social confinement, and transportation restrictions (vehicles and airplanes). Another control tactic included the closure of malls, stores, and all other places that result in large concentrations of people.
Colombia made a declaration of a State of Economic, Social and Ecological Emergency throughout the nation. This complicated social situation has remained for more than six months, affecting the economy of Colombia. In Colombia between March and April, the number of employed workers fell by 4.4 million.
On September 1, the Government announced the “Tests, Tracking and Sustainable Selective Isolation Strategy. This strategy will result in a gradual opening of the economy, increased national and international transportation, and new ways of social interaction.
Based on the behavior of the pandemic and the projection of global extension from the first two months of 2020, the National Police of Colombia, in a practice of strategic anticipation, created three institutional response lines called Adaptation, Biosecurity, and Coordination (ABC), prior to the detection of the first case in the country. These lines were deployed on February 27, 10 days before the confirmation of the first case.
The lines were a series of instructions, orders, and provisions for preventive, administrative and operational procedures. These procedures created progress toward the development of a comprehensive preventive response of control and police action in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The ABC Response Lines
The ABC police response lines involve several facets:
- Adaptation — Operational adaptation of the police service model for emergency attention
- Biosecurity — Biosecurity and well-being of police officers and their families, based on the adaptation and preparation of the health system in its prevention, human and logistical components
- Coordination — Strategic, normative, budgetary, administrative, technological, and communication coordination
There has been a downward trend in daily deaths from COVID-19 as the pandemic continues.
Colombian Efforts Helping to Contain the Spread of Coronavirus, But Crimes in Some Areas Have Increased
It would be possible to say that the Colombian government’s measures have had some positive impact containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the mandatory confinement measures resulted in a significant decrease of crime involving theft, homicide, and personal injuries.
However, criminal actions such as cybercrimes, domestic violence, and violence against women has had a significant increase. That rise has caught the attention of police authorities and is now compelling them to create new prevention and criminal investigation strategies to face the pandemic’s criminal scenarios.
About the Authors
Maj. Efren Munoz is a member of the Colombian National Police with more than eighteen years of experience in police service and criminal investigation, especially in crimes related to transnational organized crime, money laundering, forfeiture assets, terrorism, and drug trafficking. He has held positions that have allowed him to know crime closely, giving him the ability to successfully lead investigative processes and police operations against international criminal organizations, while working together with international representation agencies placed in Colombia such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) of the United States of America.