Elena Scotti/FUSION

Cops in one of South America’s most progressive countries are calling for new regulations that would allow them to shoot suspects in the back.

Police in Uruguay say current restrictions on rules of engagement are making it difficult for them to contend with increasingly violent criminals. Under current protocol, officers can only return fire, and are only permitted to shoot suspects who are facing them.

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But law enforcement says criminals are adapting to those restrictions by shooting at police over their shoulders, or while running away, clearly aware that the law prevents police from firing back.

“Crime has changed,” said Patricia Rodriguez, an official with Uruguay’s police union. “Criminals are more armed, and they know the rules police operate under.”

Police are also asking for the right to shoot first.

“This is not about being trigger happy,” Rodriguez told Fusion. “This is about making sure our officers are able to contend with the new reality they’re facing.”

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Expanding police powers is a sensitive issue in Uruguay. The small country, which borders Argentina and Brazil, is still struggling with lingering memories of human rights abuses committed during its 1973-85 military dictatorship.

Despite increasing crime rates, Uruguay remains among Latin America’s safest countries with the region’s lowest homicide rate.

“It’s not a pretty solution, and we know it might provoke some criticism,” said Fabricio Rios, another police union official.