Lima mayor Luis Castañeda has enacted an ordinance to provide city watchmen with non-lethal weapons including pepper spray, stun guns and air guns.
The program will start with watchmen in downtown Lima and ultimately spread to all 43 districts of the metropolitan area. Watchmen from each district will be required to undergo a three-month training program before receiving the weapons.
Watchmen in Peru are hired by each district and serve a support role for the police. They do not carry guns and do not have the power to detain or arrest subjects. However they patrol the streets and alert local police in case of an emergency or crime.
Crime in Peru has been steadily rising and is now the top issue facing voters before 2016 elections, for which the presidential frontrunner is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the security hardliner President Alberto Fujimori.
A recent poll showed 71% of Lima residents are in favor of giving watchmen non-lethal weapons. As many as 90% say they do not feel safe in the streets. Castañeda’s approval ratings spiked to 78% in February from 59% in January, possibly in part because of his arming the city’s watchmen.
“This survey reflects the public’s interest in having better security,” former interior minister Wilfredo Pedraza told Peru 21. “However, the use of non-lethal weapons will not help fight crime, because you cannot use them you stop a robbery or kidnapping.”
Pedraza said that there is no law prohibiting districts from providing non-lethal weapons to its watchmen, and that Congress should pass a law to determine their legality and appropriate use. He added that watchmen do not have the same legal protections as police officers in case of a lawsuit after an accident, serious injury or death.
Former Peruvian National Police director Luis Montoya said that giving weapons to watchmen with training programs which vary from district to district was dangerous.
“They want to create an informal police. What happens when something bad happens caused by misuse of these weapons? The watchmen of Lima are not prepared to use them,” Montoya told Peru 21. “The national government has neglected the safety of Lima. Therefore, we must work to restructure the national police.”
The city of Lima bought 100 air guns which fire rubber bullets this month. They will be used by the 300 watchmen who work in downtown Lima starting in March.
“[The watchmen] have psychological examinations for anger management so they use [the weapons] properly,” a Lima official told Peru 21. “There will be a register for each bullet used and there could be internal punishment if they do not comply with the rules.”
Serenos de Lima usarán armas no letales desde febrero (La Republica)