Monday, March 18, 2013

What's Happening In Cotacachi

Once again, Dan Delgado has provided us with information that's helpful for all of us living in Cotacachi and I hope it is informative to those who either plan to move here or just want to know more about what's happening here and how things are the same or different than where you currently live.  Enjoy--

By Dan Delgado
Communications Committee for English-Speaking Residents of Cotacachi

This Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 10AM is the scheduled inauguration of Cotacachi's new UPC (Community Police Unit) precinct near the public hospital. It will house 16 new officers and Cotacachi will also have double the present number of police motorbikes and some new police cars with up-to-date technology.

A group of us were apprised of this new information at a Security Workshop organized by a group of English speaking residents, who asked the police to help us understand how emergency systems work, so we can better protect ourselves and each other. Two officers, Ofc. Klever and Ofc. Reinoso, were sent by the police Major Cristian Perez to drop in on a potluck dinner, where they answered questions for about an hour and a half. The most important answer we needed to know was: that the police station is always the first you should call, from now on.
06-291-4400 is the new precinct telephone number and from there it would be easier for the staff to reach Major Perez if necessary, since he understands some English, also. Officers can help find you an ambulance or a Forensic officer and should have a police report made out for you, and now should help direct you to the proper channels in the legal system, if necessary.

The 911 system does reach here now, but calls to there are dispatched from farther away at a Firefigher station in Otavalo. The other number you may often see posted publicly is 102, but this is dispatched from Ibarra.

A new security feature that the officers told us would be available as soon as the new precinct opens, is the Cell-phone Panic Button to protect your home and your neighbors. In an emergency, on pressing a phone digit (probably #5) and holding it pressed for five seconds, an alarm is sounded and if the officers don't find the person who called in the alarm, the police are allowed (by your previously registering) to use force to enter your premises. The alarm signal reaches the precinct, and then emergency response teams are deployed, and the new police cruisers also receive the alarm simultaneously. With GPS and access to the data you've previously registered about your location and other details, police units that are in the sector should respond immediately.

Police officials ask "people to come to the new UPC precinct with their cell phones, where they will be given a code, which is recorded in the speed dial function. People can also offer to register whatever detailed data they think may be useful  in the security database".

This alarm is specifically for your registered location, and you do not speak to a dispatcher for the police to find you; the police would be going directly to the home registered in the database. You could also use the panic button to call for police for a nearby neighbor who needs help as long as you are there to point out the situation when help arrives. The emergency could be a medical emergency, also.

This system allows for one to accidentally make up to three false-alarm calls, before the police may remove the particular cell-phone number and data from the emergency response database. With the 911 system, the penalty is more harsh. Three false alarms and your phone itself will be turned off for a period of time, and repeat offenders, or even people whose children haven't learned better, would have the phone number itself disconnected (turned off) indefinitely, whether it's a landline or cellphone.

More than 400 new UPC's will be finished this year, with the total of new UPC's eventually to reach about 1400. New jails and prisons, new courthouses, fingerprint database, forensic experts, dogs and helicopters (not just for police, since now the military has been taken out of the barracks and put to work with the police, wherever necessary).

The officers explained another service offering that if you feel insecure taking a large amount of cash out of the bank, you can ask for an escort from the bank manager, or from the precinct, and they will provide you an armed police officer to guard you to go anywhere you need to go. The police are not to ask questions about whether this is to pay payroll or anything. They can take you in the police car or walk with you. When asked if they would escort someone home who might feel vulnerable in the dark (or who just wants the company of a nice young handsome cop), he laughed and answered that, yes, they would try to send someone to help anyone who asks.

The officers also spoke of the Taxi Seguro program in Quito, where you register at, so as a taxi approaches you dial 2468 from your cell phone, and enter the four digit number that identifies each taxi. In about 3 seconds, you and someone you have chosen to notify in case of emergency, both receive more identifying details for the cab, and the time that you entered the car is recorded. If you don't receive a message back with information about the legal status of this car you should try to leave this car or call for help if necessary. 70% of express sequesters are in cars painted yellow. This Taxi Seguro service will work for the rest of the country after issues with the unlicensed and executive cabs are worked out.

The officers also mentioned that often, a truckload of stolen goods is found, or a pawn shop or Kiosk is closed, and the police want to get items back to the victimized owners of stolen property. They ask that you keep the Factura receipts for equipment you have, and include them in police reports. You can also try writing the serial numbers of the equipment somewhere, and maybe send it to yourself as an email. Photos of serial numbers on equipment might work to identify items, but it would be more complicated than having receipts. And of course, filing a police report is not only for the possibility of recovering property, but it is important so police will know where they have security problems to work on. If the police can't prove with police reports that they need more help to handle situations in a certain area, then more help will not be allocated.

The police invite any group of individuals who would like a security workshop, or a security inspection, or help with an emergency plan, to please approach the precinct with a date and location, and they will gladly comply with the request. If I can be of assistance, feel free to write me an email.

The dog poisoning incidents this week are disturbing to any humane person. Some people thought the police were doing this, but the police said this would be "illegal" and told me to ask at the Public Hospital, since the poisoning of dogs used to be the job of the same office there that administers free vaccinations for rabies. At this animal-control office, I was told they haven't used the dog-poison in 4 years, and that the poison they used to use, would not hurt the animals as much as the poison that they see dogs being killed with now. When the euthanasia program starts, they expect to reduce a lot of suffering humanely, with a medical injection.

A woman who works in a store on Nueve de Octubre was seen in the act of poisoning by two witnesses from very close-up. The woman stepped out of a car with a bag of food, which she deliberately placed next to a dog in the doorway of the home of an American ex-pat who feeds strays in that spot. She ended up poisoning a dog who has been quietly lying in the doorway of this ex-pat's home for years. The dog was treated by our town's only Licensed Veterinarian, Dany, and has survived but suffered excruciating pain for hours.

Unfortunately, as I went door to door to all the government offices we could think of, I found that there is no actual law against abusing your own dog or poisoning your neighbor's dog in Cotacachi. The National (Legislative) Assembly has only started to discuss Animal Rights this last month, and for now, some municipalities, like Quito, have ordinances. Last year, Ibarra made their own animal welfare ordinance. Cotacachi does not have an ordinance but Pablo Alpa has been in the process of drawing one up in the office of Judicatura.

For now, both of our town commissioners said they can't think of a law that could be used to stop inhumane treatment of animals, at all. They suggested the town Prosecutor (Fiscal) for more information but the value of the property destroyed has to have a proven value of more than two monthly minimum wages for the Fiscal's office to get involved.

The threat to the public from poisoned food being left in front of someone's home where there actually do happen to be toddlers living, or the concept of other potential victims, the mentally incapacitated, the poor - being vulnerable to a deranged person's wrecklessness; was all just an interesting perspective for these officials - but not very compelling. It's possible the Defensoria del Pueblo or PAE (Proteccion Animal de Ecuador) could help somehow but we can all help encourage changes in the local and national laws too.

Abstractions like the "constitution protects nature"  are meaningless without actual laws with firm legal definitions. For now the dogs are treated pretty much like vermin. The ordinance that Mr. Alpa is working on is one step in the direction of changing some of the customary behaviors we see that allow for unnecessary cruelty. For me personally - Culture is usually the last, and always the worst excuse for inhumanity. If Pablo Alpa asks for us to work on community outreach or sign petitions in order to get this ordinance approved, I hope he can count on lots of help.

By the way, I know that the police at our meeting told us that President Correa will be in town Tuesday to inaugurate the UPC, but with him attending the Coronation of the first Latino Pope, and other business in Europe, it is not certain he will be here as previously scheduled.

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