Police and government officials from Guatemala have been in Miami all week visiting schools and shadowing Miami-Dade schools police as part of a training program organized by the U.S. State department.
On Friday, they stood by and observed as MDCPS schools police cued mock explosions, students in gory makeup and a canine unit as part of hostage scenario training drill unfolding at Treasure Island Elementary School in North Bay Village.
“We don’t have this experience of working in coordination across agencies,” said Axel Romero, Guatemala’s vice minister for crime prevention.
Romero watched North Bay Village police direct traffic as a drone operator fed footage from overhead to staff with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “We don’t have these problems about terrorism, but we have to deal with gangs and gunshots, and we have to deal with drug-dealing,” Romero said.
While Guatemala has been spared the worst of the gang violence that plagues nearby Honduras and El Salvador, organized gangs have become a menace in parts of the capital city, extorting staff and using schools as recruiting grounds. Thus authorities in the country are in the process of creating a specialized police force to work with the 3 million students in the nation’s public schools.
A unit of 500 officers with the national police force is adopting gang-prevention strategies already used by Miami-Dade school police.
“It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, where you’re at, the same issues apply,” says Chief Ian Moffett, whose staff has trained cops from as far afield as Morocco. “Kids are kids,” he says. “You need to build relationships.”