It's tough to be a cop in Venezuela

Fuerte-balacera-entre-colectivos-GNB-y-PNB-en-la-Av-San-Martin-Caracas-800x533It’s not easy being a police officer in Venezuela, one of the most violent countries in the world. But how bad is it for those responsible to protect the lives of ordinary people?

Reuters’ Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Ore present us with a bleak picture of how easy it is for Venezuelan cops to lose their life in the hands of the criminals they’re supposed to confront.

According to the annual report of the NGO Due Process Foundation (Fundepro), 338 police officers were killed in the line of duty last year, an increase of 15% compared with 2013 (when 295 died).

To put this in context, other countries with similar or higher murder rates such as Honduras and El Salvador saw 32 (until November ’14, quoted in the Reuters article) and 39 cops killed respectively. Even the United States only saw 50 cops killed by guns during 2014.

In most cases, officers are killed for either their weapons, cellphones or vehicles. One of the most recent cases took place last month in Tacata (Miranda State), in where local police supervisor Álvaro Blanco was killed. The two young delinquents responsible were shot dead hours later after confronting the authorities. The case is covered in this report by foreign correspondent in Venezuela Girish Gupta. I must warn readers that it contains some graphic footage.

But police officers in Venezuela face many other problems beside the high risk of dying at work: they openly admit they’re barely equipped and lowly paid. To add insult to injury, police don’t get much sympathy from many of their fellow citizens:

The public is aware of the police murders via media and talk on the street, but sympathy does not run deep because of disgust at well-known corruption and crime within police ranks.

“In the U.S., if one policeman is killed, there is an outcry. Here, no-one raises a voice to support policemen,” said Jackeline Sandoval, a former police lawyer and public prosecutor who heads Fundepro. “If there’s no security for police, what does that say for the rest of us?”

Late last year, a study by Vanderbilt University’s LAPOP (Latin American Public Opinion Project) showed that the Venezuelan police had the second-worst public image in the entire region, only surpassed by the Bolivian police.

Of course, the official response to Reuters’ article was simply “no response,” and the central government has not released any related figures in years. Yet, the so-called “police transformation” is already on the march, and its head, former MP Freddy Bernal, just admitted that “…corruption has penetrated local, regional and national police forces”. He even warned about “…a gang of cops that kills other cops”. That sounds more like the plot of a Steven Seagal movie.

Bernal also admitted a deficit of at least 1,300 criminal investigators as well (forensic experts, technicians, etc.), which makes me wonder what the National University for Security (UNES), founded in 2009, has been doing all this time.

The rate of police officers killed in action this year almost reaches one death per day, according to Fundepro and what’s the state’s answer to this? To finally consider the creation of our own list of most wanted criminals. The only breather for our police somehow is that criminals themselves simply take care of each other, one bullet to another.