Would you be willing to play Batman?

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DarkknightImagine yourself living in Gotham City.

Crime rates keep going up. City Hall is unable to guarantee the minimum amount of security to its citizens. Cops are just incapable of battling criminals…but then one day an opulent member of Gotham’s society decides to have a purpose in life, giving birth to (You know him!) Batman. He ends up saving the day, (and yes fellow Caracas Chronicles readers, I’m a huge fan of Chris Nolan’s Caped Crusader’s trilogy).

Now let’s try the same exercise here in our beloved but crime-ridden capital. Do we have any super-heroes?

No, I’m not pretending Gustavo Cisneros or Lorenzo Mendoza would end up dressing in a black costume fihting the “Prans”, or other common bad guys, or to that extent expecting the “Boligarchs” to fight cronies as a corporate social responsibility policy. I’m talking about a different kind of super-hero.

Each day, we see these unknown superheroes, not dressed in costumes but in uniforms. And even though people get the feeling that ALL policemen are corrupt, most of them are not.

Suppose that as Bruce Wayne did, you wished to rescue your city from violence, only this time there’s no Batman gadgets, no bat cave, no batmobile…not even having your Alfred around. What is the story of an ordinary police officer in Caracas, or Venezuela for that matter?

Just to provide you with some facts, on average a police officer in Caracas earns 5.302BsF a month, which could be translated into 841,58$ on the Cadivi rate, 461.04$ using SICAD or just a mere 66,28$ a month using the “You know who” exchange rate. As you can see, the incentives for “una ayuaita” pervade the officer’s mind, especially if you’re earning less than 2 minimum wages a month putting your life on the line to fight criminals who not only make more money but also are better equipped than you.

Even though policemen have been harshly hit by the lack of economic opportunities in Venezuela, the ones that I’ve been acquainted with from my time as a former public policy analyst at Alcaldía de Sucre are mostly from the same diminished middle class families that you and I come from. Some of them have to gamble to make a living for their families. Others have to run a “negocito part-time” just to make ends meet. They also have dreams – most of them are passionate about their careers in the police force; and they’re excited when they frustrate a robbery, a kidnapping, or they feel that what they do makes the world a better place; in other words when they realize that they are a key link between society and justice.

As you can fathom, the police force is as much of a human capital activity as other professional careers; they need to be spurred, motivated, and they response to incentives. In the following posts I’ll describe crime issues from this supply-side point of view, where high risk doesn’t necessarily translate into higher rewards.

In order to partly comprehend this dire public concern, we need to see ourselves in other people’s shoes. Ask yourself “Are you willing to be that kind of Batman?”