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News / Nation & World

Haitian leaders oust police chief and appoint a new one as gang violence claims officers’ lives

By Associated Press
Published: June 16, 2024, 2:41pm
2 Photos
Police guard outside the hospital where Haiti&#039;s newly selected prime minister, Garry Conille was hospitalized in Port-au-Prince, Haiti late Saturday, June 8, 2024. Louis G&eacute;rald Gilles, a member of the transitional presidential council that recently chose Conille, said he was en route to the hospital and did not have further information.
Police guard outside the hospital where Haiti's newly selected prime minister, Garry Conille was hospitalized in Port-au-Prince, Haiti late Saturday, June 8, 2024. Louis Gérald Gilles, a member of the transitional presidential council that recently chose Conille, said he was en route to the hospital and did not have further information. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph) Photo Gallery

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian leaders have ousted Frantz Elbé, the beleaguered director of Haiti’s National Police, following months of criticism that he wasn’t doing enough to protect officers under assault by gangs.

A government official not authorized to speak to the media told The Associated Press on Saturday that former Haitian police chief Normil Rameau will once again take the helm of an underfunded and ill-equipped department that a U.N. report notes only has around 4,000 officers on duty at a time in a country of more than 11 million inhabitants. Rameau had been dismissed from the post nearly four years ago under a different administration,

More than 2,500 people have been killed or injured across Haiti in the first three months of the year as gang violence continues to surge.

Among those killed are nearly two dozen police officers, overwhelmed by gangs that control 80% of Port-au-Prince and are better-equipped and have more powerful weapons. The most recent killings targeted three officers from a newly formed anti-gang tactical unit who were on patrol in an armored vehicle. A fourth remains missing.

From 2015 to 2024, more than 320 police officers have been killed, with 120 of them slain under Elbé’s administration, according to a survey released this week by the local nonprofit group National Network for the Defense of Human Rights.

Rameau’s appointment comes as a newly selected prime minister and Cabinet take the reins of Haiti’s government with a transitional presidential council at their side.

Rameau previously served as police director-general under slain former President Jovenel Moïse, who appointed him in August 2019. Prior to that, he oversaw the detective division. He was ousted as police chief in November 2020 after Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe accused him of being incompetent and not producing results at a time when gangs were seizing control of more territory.

Neither Rameau nor Elbé returned messages for comment.

Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection praised the selection of Rameau as police chief and demanded that he act swiftly to stop gang activity and establish a security plan to curb violence.

It also urged police to push judicial authorities to open investigations into the killings of citizens, including journalists, and into what it called the “spectacular” escape of more than 4,500 prisoners in March after gangs stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons. The office said that the attack took place “with the complete indifference” of Elbé and the former ministers of justice and public security.

Haiti’s police unions have repeatedly called for Elbé’s resignation and arrest, noting that gangs have raided and burned at least 30 police stations and substations in recent months as part of a series of attacks that began on Feb. 29 that targeted critical state infrastructure and led to the eventual resignation of former Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

On Wednesday, a police union known as SPNH-17 held a news conference to condemn the state of the department and deplore the deaths of the officers.

“Look at these young men, hacked to death,” spokesman Garry Jean-Baptiste said as he pointed to rows of pictures behind him that depicted officers killed on duty.

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The union also issued a statement the day Haiti celebrated the creation of its police department.

“Haiti’s National Police is 29 years old, but it still can’t walk … it hasn’t grown because corruption and incompetence has held it hostage,” it said.

Meanwhile, another police union known as SYNAPOHA called on newly installed Prime Minister Garry Conille this week to make strengthening the department a priority.

Conille went along on a patrol with police on June 2, donning a flak jacket and helmet as he entered an armored vehicle. SNPH-17 said at the time that the prime minister would notice during the patrol that the country had no leadership and that criminals had too much control.

“The prime minister must see the need to have another team at the top,” the union said.

Elbé was appointed head of Haiti’s National Police in October 2021, replacing Léon Charles.

Last year, under Elbé, at least 36 officers were killed in gang-related violence from January to mid-August, according to a U.N. report.

The international community has provided training and other resources to help boost Haiti’s National Police, which also is awaiting the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from Kenya as it struggles to contain gang violence and boost morale.

The survey by the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, which interviewed 132 police officers, confirmed long-known issues, including unpaid salaries, inexistent health care and a lack of psychological help, Police officers for the most part do not receive additional training after graduating from the academy and are forced to use old and substandard equipment, the survey found.

It also noted that certain police officers work with gangs: “Consequently, the police institution, weakened by state authorities, severely hit by insecurity and welcoming into its midst agents who are in collusion with criminals, tries as much as possible to confront the situation of general decay.”

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