It's tough to be a cop in Venezuela

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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.

1 COMMENT

  1. Gustavo,

    Excellent article. I have to confess that my first reaction upon looking at the title was the thought that so many of the police are also the criminals. The honest cop in Venezuela, who is trying to do his job, keep the peace, and put the bad guys in jail is fighting an impossible battle. How can they possibly combat corruption in the ranks, when all the politicians and judges are even dirtier than they are?

      • I guess we’re going in the right direction then.

        Back in 2007 or so the Director of the CICPC estimated that figure to be around 30%

          • This is a situation that has haunted Venezuela for a long time, decades.

            Most cops live in the same neighborhoods as the hoods do, and many times have to either curtail their efforts in fear of reprisal or have to move elsewhere. They also can see how easy it is to live the hood life and earn 100 times what they make as cops. So to also be crime victims is just the cherry on top.

            First in Chacao under Irene Saez, and then later in Baruta, an effort was made to get them decent wages, recruit from a more educated pool of candidates and give them the training they needed. The results were definitely noticeable. Part of the reason you felt you entered a different country when you entered Chacao was the fact that their Police were courteous and mostly fair in the discharge of their duties. I’m not saying they were angels, but they certainly were a couple of steps in the right direction.

            The contrast between the Chacao and Baruta police and the old Policia Metropolitana was enormous.

            23 years ago, it was the Chacao police, DISIP (Now SEBIN) and the PTJ (Now CICPC) that stood against Chavez and his hoodlums alongside the loyalist troops, a fact Chavez never forgot and prompted him to always seek to render them toothless. And even though Freddy Bernal led a big group of Policia Metropolitana to help the coupsters, many in that police either fought against them or stood aside.

            If the political element could be excised from the current police, as well as giving them worthy salaries and benefits, we could begin to see a difference.

          • All of that needs to be done. However, history has shown that there are no magic bullets. Reduction in crime comes from, first of all, the political will of the governments (national and local) to recognize the problem and provide the resources to address it. After that, it comes the hard (and heartbreaking) work of many police and legal professionals working day in and day out for many years.

  2. Honest cops in Venezuela are few and far between. Most cops like to intimidate and behave like bullies, often showing disappointment when they can’t get money from their usual acts of corruption (matraqueo). Being blackmailed by cops is quite common, and I have friends who have been robbed by cops at night. That’s why it’s so hard for venezuelans to trust cops, because they are perceived to be as dangerous as common criminals.

  3. After what happened to the Faddoul siblings, just to name one incident, it is really hard to trust in them. Even way before than that we didn’t think they were very efficient, I remember while being kidnapped with my car back in 2001 then only thing in my mind was: “please God don’t let the police see us or we are dead”.

    • It’s staggering you’re under some illusion that even expressing this in public does anything but confirm everyone’s suspicion that you’re a world-class, mongo-sized asshole.

      Really, it’s not acceptable. Not even because it’s online and you’re using an anonymous nick.

      • Everyone says “Not acceptable” until they get the usual cop treatment in Venezuela, then they wish to burn them all to ashes. Whether you think i am a moron or not doesn´t clear the fact that police in this country is a criminal organization. And as such, should be destroyed whatever the means, even by the malandros who comprise more than HALF of the corps.

        Is not even February 12 and you already FORGET what these thugs where doing last year with civilians and students?

        Political correctness everywhere for the sake of not looking like an “asshole”. So call me one then, i don’t care at all.

        Why is that hard to face reality?, why do we insist in approaching chavernment with chivalry and good manners when WE KNOW police corps and armed forces are BRANCHES of the repression apparatus? Why do we mourn murderers?.

        Why are we that stupid?. What do you think Redman’s or Bassil’s family would think reading shit like “Its tough to be a cop in Venezuela”. Is TOUGH to lose a SON in hands of the scum you are feeling pity at.

        Do you want to be politically correct and pontificate on what is right or wrong from your podium?, go ahead, i´m not asking you to demand all cops to be crushed like i did. After all, that is my own personal view on the matter.

        At least have some RESPECT with the victims and do not mourn these fuckers.

    • What is wrong with you? Not all cops are malandros, some are really good people working in an impossible situation.

      Either way, a human being was murdered execution style for his service pistol. Have a little modicum of basic decency.

  4. 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.
    Chavezuela and a country governed by an acolyte of Chavez. What a surprise!

  5. Brings up child memories of when I used to play baseball in the San Martin Plaza, next to the popular market, with my street friends and the 2 PM cops from the admission office of the Maternidad Concepción Palacios most afternoons coming back home from school. One of them we used to call “Agent 3737”, because of his badge number; the other, the Sargent, will always tell us to be good and help our moms with the chores, otherwise he will know and will not allow us to play in the Plaza. These were the times when many university students will bring their “sillas de extension” and their coffee mugs to study under the light posts of the plaza, minding their books and homeworks. Decades later the plaza was destroyed by an ambitious and populist mayor of one dominat party, the same politician who turned down el Nuevo Circo without ever considering building a replacement first (yes, that one who now defends democracy and freedom; some people can redeem themselves), but it did not matter anymore: one of our dear cops got killed when confronting a couple of bad guys in Quinta Crespo during an armed robbery to a local bank, the students, afraid of street crime, has stopped visiting the post lights of the plaza to study, and we had grew up that magic time of being children and happily play in the streets with real PM cops. At least we lived that. Try to beat it, Freddy Bernal and your dawn “revolution” . . .

    • All it takes is one or two unrestrained ‘malandros’ acting with impunity for a period of time for the fragile social cohesion of any place to be completely disrupted. The group cohesiveness simply vanishes, people start looking over their shoulders and acting distrustful, ‘good morning’ and ‘excuse me’ become rarer. It takes decades to build this kind of bonds you mentioned, but months to destroy it.

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