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?”

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve always wondered why we haven’t produced our very own ‘endogenous superhero’, it seems pretty obvious to me that, for example, Miguel Peña in Valencia, or Las Mayas in Caracas are in much more dire need of a superhero than, say, any borough in NYC. Our fictional superheroes should be helping the police, arresting the malandros in the barrios, smashing pranes, catching corrupt politicians, I mean, that’s a superhero I’d like to see. As much as I like to see Bruce Wayne fighting The Joker, or the S&M guy of the last movie, or Tony Stark beating the crap out of some creatures from another world, I think I’d prefer to watch guys like them fighting Los Orejones or something.
    On a more serious note, I agree with Carlos when he says that most police officers are pretty decent people, with them, it is like a barrio: you got a 10k population, and around 20 to 30 azotes de barrio that give the barrio it’s ugly reputation, when in fact the majority of people living in our barrios are not criminal’s. A group of corrupt police officers undermines the reputation of an entire institution. Also, here in Venezuela, police departments are woefully understaffed. I think that the ratio of police officers per thousand people here is considerably lower than that of a ‘first world’ country.

  2. great article! great job. I also have the honor of being aquainted with a few active and a few retired policemen, and they are just as honest or rotten as you and I. They all have to make something on the side, I mean they have to eat, they have families, you know? In spite of this they have a high regard for ethical behaviour, and they do their best. I can vouch for them. That is one god awful job, performed under hellish circumstances, that is just about as thankless as anything else public servants do in this country. And on top of that they get no respect. Amazing that we still have cops…

  3. That was a fresh take on a much maligned institution although I still think the reputation is well deserved in Venezuela. Super heroes are essentially vigilantes. I would not be surprised if we actually did see a rise of vigilante justice in Venezuela. I lived in an area in Guatemala where the neighborhood put together civilian patrols. They were fed up. You can only take so much.

  4. Fuck the force. They are just as corrupt as that piece of shit Maduro. If they were serious about their jobs and/or had reasonable funding maybe just maybe Venezuela wouldn’t be safer than Iraq.

  5. If you worked with the police force you’re definitely much more informed about these things than I am, but I must say I’ve seldom encountered this “to protect and serve” brand of policemen. Besides the usual matraqueo that everyone experiences on the highway, my only interactions with the police in Venezuela were during the 2007 protests. The guys were brutal, sadists, downright evil. And when questioned publicly about their brutality, their answer was always “I was following orders”. Really, I can’t bring myself to feel respect for people like that.

    Obviously my interaction with policemen has been very limited. Maybe they send all the assholes to the riot squads or something like that. I look forward to your next articles about this, so I can better understand how things look like from the policeman point of view.

  6. I think people generalize too much.They have a few bad experiences with some petty tyrants, and then assume ALL police are bad.I also think there are quite some few who feel that when they complain about others,they themselves( the complainers) are somehow raised to a higher level.This is a cheap way to make oneself look good.

    I have witnessed quite a few collapsing hierarchies( not being objective about the degree to which something is true or untrue).

    This is why groups of people are willing to ” throw out the baby with the bathwater”.

    An analogy might be made with the 4 th Republic.Even young people who never experienced it are allergic and guilty of collapsing the hierarchies to such a degree that there appears to be nothing salvageable.So let us wipe out our entire History and start from scratch? Impossible.

    This kind of black and white thinking gets us nowhere.One can make up one’s mind about wanting to improve something, and take a solid stand without creating a black and white world.It’s called reality.

  7. Dude, Gustavo Cisneros does not belong in the same sentence as Lorenzo Mendoza. In fact, even suggesting him as some kind super hero fighting criminals demonstrate a supine ignorance on the man, and his “work”.

    I would have thought educated Venezuelans knew as much by now.

    • It would be nice if we could get a book about the composition of the Venezuelan mafias beyond the Boligarchs.

      Of course, someone writing about them would live in more fear than Italian Roberto Saviano.

        • Thanks. I hope the books is better written than that article, though. There is so much material in Venezuela. If so many books have been written about the Sicilian mafia, I don’t know why we can’t write similar books about Venezuela’s…even books dedicated to “Los Cisneros” only.

          Perhaps in 20 years from now The Godfather would be relegated to a third position under “El Compadre” and “El Camarada”, written by the world-known Guacaran writer José Gregorio Rodríguez González.

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