(Bloomberg) -- Lawmakers in Chile, renowned as one of the safest countries in Latin America, approved a series of bills Wednesday to grant security forces more powers and toughen sentencing following the murder of two police officers within 15 days.
Deputies overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bills amid a backlash against mounting crime that has undermined support for President Gabriel Boric. The bills will now head to the Senate for further discussion.
Lawmakers met in special sessions this week to rush through the bills after the latest murders added to a perception among some groups that mass immigration was stoking a crime wave. Bills approved yesterday grant police greater powers to stop and search immigrants and to detain them if they don’t have an identity card. While Chile’s murder rate has increased in recent years, it remains less than a quarter of that in countries such as Brazil or Mexico, and significantly below the US.
Despite their support in the chamber of deputies, the bills could cause friction within Boric’s ruling coalition, with some criticizing them for reducing the criminal responsibility of police when fighting crime, such as accidents caused during car chases or police shootings.
“We have better options and that will keep us from becoming a ‘trigger-happy’ country,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha said Wednesday, promising to review several articles in the Senate.
Chile’s government sped up discussion of these crime bills after the murder last week of a uniformed policewoman, Rita Olivares, during an operation in the city of Quilpue. Another uniformed policeman, or “carabinero,” was killed two weeks ago during a traffic control. With that the total of police killed in the past 10 months reached five.
With these measures President Gabriel Boric is trying to improve his “tough on crime” credentials as his approval ratings continue to fall. Boric was jeered when he attended the funeral of policewoman Olivares. A poll by Cadem shows that his disapproval rating rose to 65% in the week to March 26 and his approval dipped to 30%.
Boric has been criticized for pardoning in December several people that had been condemned for crimes during the wave of social unrest that began in late 2019. A separate poll by Activa Research shows crime as the main concern among Chileans.
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