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In Honduras, 176 police officers are under investigation

They all worked at the same police post in Tegucigalpa

Officers who worked at the post during the past five years are under investigation

CNN —  

In a campaign to cleanse its national police force of “rotten apples,” Honduras has placed 176 police officers under investigation for a range of alleged crimes, from corruption to murder.

All the officers belong to the same police post, which is based in a Tegucigalpa neighborhood known as “La Granja,” or the farm, Security Ministry spokesman Silvio Inestrosa told CNN Friday.

Officers who worked at the post during the past five years are under investigation, he said.

The police scrutiny comes as distrust of police officers reaches new highs, following the killing of two university students, allegedly by police officers.

“As an institution, we have to strengthen the police, but we have to remove the rotten apples,” President Porfirio Lobo said during a speech Thursday.

Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, with a rate in 2010 of 82.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. According to a recent report by the country’s own human rights commission, that rate could increase to 86 per 100,000 this year.

Despite the high criminality, Hondurans don’t always turn to the police for help. According to residents, the police are sometimes to be more feared than criminals.

This is the context under which two university students last month decided to flee from police instead of being pulled over. According to the national police, the officers shot and injured one of the students and headed toward a hospital. But along the way, police said, the officers instead decided to take the pair to a different location and execute them.

The officers implicated in the killings are from the same district that is under investigation.

Already, four officers who have been charged with covering up the killings have appeared before a judge. The four officers accused of actually carrying out the killings are fugitives.

The investigations and possible firings of the 176 is latest of a series of steps that the government has taken since the outcry over the killings.

Days after the incident, the national police shook up its top ranks.

“In these times of violence it is necessary to have new actions, vitality, energy and teamwork with the benefit of the Honduran people in mind,” Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said when he announced the changes.

Also, lawmakers on Thursday rewrote the country’s policing laws, stripping the national police of its internal affairs department, and handing over such investigations to a new, independent force.

Journalist Elvin Sandoval contributed to this report.