As the violence on Haiti’s streets attributable to “gangs” reaches unprecedented levels, The Haitian Times digs into four answers to the question so many Haitians ask — “How do we get rid of these gangs?” This installment examines the ability of PNH, Haiti’s police force, to respond to the crisis as it faces unique challenges, including its own unsavory associations with the gangs.
This story is part of a special investigation into Haiti’s gang crisis and potential solutions. To view the full series visit our special section, Gangs in Haiti: A deeper look.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — A solution popular with many in both the Haitian and international communities is to provide ideal conditions for the Haitian National Police (PNH) to eliminate the gangs.
Among those who see solutions within procedures and personnel of the PNH is Haitian Vision for Human Rights (VHDH). Romulus Jules, leader of VHDH, said the group tries to assist the government with reports of human rights violations, particularly by gangs.
“The solution should come with the National Police because they have a prevention service that allows them to dismantle at the base any possible formation of gang groups in the country,” Jules said.
“It is necessary to remove police officers suspected of having links with the gangs within the police institution,” Jules said. “We must stop isolating the areas where Haitians live in dire conditions, which the bandits use as hiding places. And we must separate the police and judicial institutions completely from politics so they are independent.”
That idea of reforming and equipping police, among multiple solutions to Haiti’s violence, has received the most financial support.
Sébastien Carrière, the Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, tweeted on Aug. 12 that his country had added $30 million to the U.N. Basket Fund for the PNH, in 2022 alone. According to the release, the investment earmarked $12.35 million for training and increased efficiency and $3 million to increase the number of women police officers.
On the U.S. side, the superpower has provided $312 million in assistance between 2010 and 2020 to strengthen law enforcement and PNH. It has since added another $5 million to reinforce the PNH’s capacity to work with communities to resist the gangs. In July, the U.S. pledged to give yet another $48 million to police coffers, tweeted Wendy Sherman, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.
“The country’s security concerns several institutions, but the police are an essential part because they are the institution that must attack the gangs but also have the power to ask the collaboration of the population. The police must practice the confidentiality system for their sources in this sense, “Jules said.
Police show some effort, with mixed results
To its credit, the Haitian police of late have increased the number of operations they undertake in neighborhoods around the capital and in the provinces, indicating that current PNH leaders are confronting the gangs already.
In an operation Aug. 14 in the Artibonite Department, police said they killed an armed bandit known as “Goliath,” the third leader in command in the Savien criminal organization.
During the weekend of Aug. 12, police said on its PNH facebook page, they arrested 21 people in different parts of the country. Among the suspects are Ermond Lochard, 29, and Mercidieu “Jerry” Lochard, 38, both alleged members of the 400 Mawozo gang in Bon Repos in Croix-des-Bouquets. Kenold Edner, 38, who housed the pair at his Mirebalais home, was also taken into custody.
In the same weekend of Aug. 12, the Intervention Brigade of the Bon-Repos sub-police station arrested alleged assassin Sainca Jean Franck, alias “Ti-Rasta,” in Rosembert, also near Croix-des-Bouquets. Three other individuals were apprehended in Thomassique, a commune of Pétion-Ville.
In Haiti’s provinces, police of “Nan Olive” in Léogâne arrested nine people allegedly affiliated with the criminal organization of Village de Dieu, near Martissant. Three others were intercepted and arrested at a police checkpoint in the Center Department.
Those arrests follow an uptick in arrests from the week prior, when several special operations in Gros-Morne, Artibonite and Croix-des-Bouquets resulted in the police killing of 12 suspected bandits and rescue of 36 hostages.
In another operation Aug. 4 in Terre-blanche, a locality in Croix-des-Bouquets, police said they killed Collegue Octavius, a powerful leader in the 400 Mawozo criminal organization. Officers also released six hostages, including a Frenchman, on Aug. 4.
“Octavius was one of the most dangerous gang leaders, who operated in the commune of Croix-des-Bouquets, and a lieutenant of Wilson Joseph called “Lanmò San Jou,” who leads the outlaw criminal group of 400 Mawozo,” PNH said in a video posted on its Facebook page.
On Aug. 3, PNH reported, its agents stopped two alleged bandits near a community hospital in Bon Repos, also a commune near Croix-des-Bouquets. Officers found two pistols, a Smith and Wesson and a Beretta.
Police officers have been tracking down bandits in armored vehicles — nicknamed Men Lap Fè San, or It’s a Bloodbath — in certain neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince or nearby areas such as Croix-des-Bouquets. Members of the 400 Mawozo, a Croix-des-Bouquets gang, are targeting officers who ride in those armored vehicles, killing Réginald Laleau on Jul. 23.
Critics: Police won’t work, are part of the problem
Yet, the violence continues, bringing with it atrocities such as the immolation of residents caught in the crossfire. And critics say the idea of relying on PNH to squash gangs should be abandoned.
“Outgunning doesn’t work for so many different reasons,” said Athena Kolbe, a researcher of gangs since 1984.
“We need to have some institutional memory and recall that just a couple of years ago, the international community supported this ‘arm or die’ campaign that resulted in many civilians being killed — and no reduction in armed violence by the baz,” Kolbe said, referring to the community base.
Community leaders also disagree with the police as the primary solution. One key reason is the endemic corruption on the force.
“We all know that today, when the police kill a bandit leader, 15 others emerge at the same time,” said Clifford Andrieux, general coordinator of Kore Delma Platform, an association of Delmas area’s younger residents.
“PNH can lead an endless fight against gangs, but once politicians continue to arm young people, it will be a lost cause — nothing will change.”
In addition, many have said, many police are in cahoots with gangs, making it that much more of an uphill battle to stop crime.
Gary Desrosiers, the PNH spokesperson, did not respond to messages seeking comments for this story.
The accusations against police have been levied for some time. Among the most visible is a masked group calling itself Fantom 509, which emerged from the ranks of the Haitian police force. For months, they spoke out against the police brass, decried their treatment on the force, called for a stop to kidnappings by gangs and gave ultimatums to the government over a variety of actions. Their protests often turned violent.
Since then, numerous people identifying themselves as police officers have spoken out on radio and other media saying their own colleagues often tip off gang leaders about PNH operations. They have said they feel discouraged because their honest efforts are undone by corrupt colleagues.
Earlier this summer, police arrested Alexandre “Ze” Ezéchiel of “Base Pilate” in Port-au-Prince, while in the company of Junior Claude, a former police officer, for his alleged involvement in many assassinations. During the arrest, Ezéchiel said his group is made up of many police officers.
In another police operation in August 2021, police killed the alleged number two of the “Krache dife” gang known as “Manino” aka “Gros Roche.” According to a PNH report, “Manino” was the author of several acts of banditism, including assassinations, rapes, thefts, armed robbery and fires.
During the operation, a police officer who was hanging out with the gang, based in St-Martin, was also killed. Six other people were injured that day and 42 arrested.
Before then, police, along with other officials, have also been implicated in massacres. In July 2020, human rights organizations National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) and Fondasyon Je Klere (FJKL) said a group of armed gangs close to the Jovenel Moïse government were responsible for orchestrating a 2018 La Saline massacre for electoral purposes. At the time the United States had sanctioned the G9 gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier and two former members of President Jovenel Moïse’s administration, Fednel Monchery and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan.
Duplan, then Moïse’s Departmental Delegate, was accused of being the “intellectual architect” of the attack, meeting with armed gang members in La Saline during the violence, and providing firearms and police uniforms to gang members.
Monchery, at the time of the attack in 2018, was the general director of the ministry of the interior and local authorities. He was accused of providing weapons as well as state vehicles to the gangs, according to a news release.
RNDDH published a report dated June 23, 2020, that cited at least five police officers suspected of colluding with the G9 gang leader, Cherizier. They named Garry Sanon, David Diverant, Luckson Dessources, as National Palace personnel who served as Cherizier’s drivers, and Alain “Pouchon” Boyard, and Mackendy Cantave, who served as Cherizier’s security.
Even if the police did have unanimous support, the logistics of equipping them is a consideration. But Police have vowed to track down criminals while waiting for equipment on back order.
On Aug. 7, Desrosiers said the agency is working toward its goals of curbing crime around the country, though it is not yet in “total control of the violence,” and is still in need of equipment on back order.
On Aug. 10, Canada announced the approval of heavy-armored personnel carriers for officers of the National Police to use in ongoing offensives against armed gangs terrorizing the country.
The PNH union welcomed the news as members anxiously awaited authorization from Canadian authorities for purchases. It has been over two months since the order was submitted, Francisco Occil, spokesman for the Haitian National Police syndicate, told The Haitian Times.
Read more about about Haiti’s gangs in our special section, Gangs in Haiti: A deeper look.