Fast Facts

The Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense train police forces in some Central American countries where corruption and human rights abuses have traditionally plagued civilian police forces.

We found that the agencies' training programs are intended to professionalize police and highlight the importance of police respect for human rights. However, State and USAID have few controls in place to ensure that the delivered training includes human rights information.

We made recommendations to address this and other issues we found in our review of Central American police training.

Police in Honduras Receiving Training from U.S. Department of Defense Trainers

Photograph of a police training session showing officers physically restraining other officers.

Photograph of a police training session showing officers physically restraining other officers.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Agencies have established objectives and delivered training to professionalize police in Central America's Northern Triangle but have not consistently done so to promote police respect for human rights. U.S. strategies include objectives to professionalize police, and the Departments of State (State) and Defense (DOD) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have delivered related training (see figure). These strategies also highlight the importance of police respect for human rights, but agencies have few objectives or other control mechanisms to ensure police receive related training. For instance, none of the 14 State projects and 2 of the 8 USAID projects that GAO reviewed had such objectives. Officials said this is because objectives were designed to be broader in focus. DOD also does not have objectives but has other control mechanisms to ensure its training includes human rights content. Federal standards for internal control call for managers to establish control mechanisms consistent with priorities. Without them, it may be difficult for State and USAID to ensure that training supports agencies' goals to promote police respect for human rights.

Police in Honduras Receiving Training from U.S. Department of Defense Trainers

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DOD, State, and USAID collect information on police training, but State lacks readily available, reliable data on the number of police trained—a key indicator in the U.S. Strategy for Central America. State's data are not readily available because, according to officials, the process to track training is decentralized and data are not consolidated. Further, GAO found State's fiscal year 2017 police training data to be unreliable because, among other reasons, the data did not include training delivered by some implementers. Officials noted that State did not have sufficient internal control mechanisms and staff in place to collect data as it expanded police training in the Northern Triangle. Without such data, State cannot accurately assess its efforts in Central America.

Why GAO Did This Study

Several U.S. agencies train police in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where corruption and human rights abuses have traditionally plagued civilian police forces. State, the primary agency responsible for foreign police assistance, allocated about $37 million to train police in these countries from appropriations for fiscal years 2014 through 2017. Although it is not a focus of their efforts, DOD and USAID also train police in the Northern Triangle.

Senate Report 115-125 includes a provision for GAO to report on various aspects of U.S. police training efforts in the Northern Triangle. In this report, GAO examines, among other objectives, the extent to which U.S. agencies have (1) established objectives for and delivered training to professionalize police, including promoting respect for human rights, and (2) collected data related to police training indicators. GAO analyzed agency data and project documents, including for 22 State and USAID-funded projects implemented during fiscal years 2014 through 2017 that agencies identified as including assistance for police. GAO also conducted fieldwork in El Salvador and interviewed agency officials in Honduras; Guatemala; and Washington, D.C., who oversee and conduct police training.

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Recommendations

To improve oversight of police training in the Northern Triangle, State and USAID should design control mechanisms to ensure human rights content is included as appropriate, and State should improve police training data. State and USAID concurred.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State 1. The Secretary of State should ensure that the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) designs internal control mechanisms to ensure human rights content is included in INL-funded police training for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as appropriate. (Recommendation 1)
Open
State concurred with this recommendation in its official comment letter included as an appendix in GAO-18-618, published in September 2018. State noted that it intends to amend templates for relevant implementing documents to address human rights as appropriate. In February 2020, State officials indicated that they had expressly included requirements for human rights components in new police training agreements established since we made our recommendation, and, in May 2020 and January 2021, provided some examples of those requirements. We continue to work with State to learn about internal control mechanisms they may have established to help ensure they continue to include human rights content in police training as appropriate.
Department of State 2. The Secretary of State should ensure that the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) develops and implements a process to collect more reliable data on the number of police trained through INL-funded efforts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. (Recommendation 2)
Open
State concurred with this recommendation in its official comment letter included as an appendix in GAO-18-618, published in September 2018. State commented that, partly in response to our report, it was developing specific indicators related to INL-funded police training. In January 2021, State officials indicated that contractors, who initially began work in 2018, would be retained through at least August 2021 to continue developing measures to track the impact of INL efforts and a database to store results, including the number of police trained. Further, officials provided preliminary data from a a related pilot data collection effort in Honduras. We will continue to monitor State's progress developing and implementing their new process to collect and track police training data.
United States Agency for International Development 3. The Administrator of USAID should design internal control mechanisms to ensure human rights content continues to be included in USAID-funded police training for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as appropriate. (Recommendation 3)
Closed - Implemented
USAID concurred with this recommendation in its official comment letter included as an appendix in GAO-18-618, published in September 2018. In commenting on the report, USAID detailed two related policy revisions it intended to implement in response, including (1) amending Project and Activity Design Mission Orders to ensure the consideration of human rights objectives and content in the design of any activity that features police assistance in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and (2) incorporating the mandatory consideration of human rights content in check lists of statutory requirements and approval process for all USAID-funded training of police in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. By the end of September 2018, USAID had provided GAO with copies of the revised guidance documents outlined in their formal response. We find that these revisions comprise internal controls mechanisms in line with our recommendation.

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