Kevin Valera was a father of two and a husband, a friend and a great cop. He was killed on my very first day at work as an El Hatillo Municipal Police officer, as he got home from work. He lived in El Cementerio, they killed him out in the open, in plain view of everyone.

You might think, “well, this happens all the time, he was mugged and it got violent.” But that’s not it. He was actually killed to steal his gun. Gossip had gone around that he was somehow involved with the police. El Cementerio is one the most dangerous places in Caracas: almost every person who gets kidnapped is taken and held captive there.

That first day was a baptism of fire. Every single man and woman I came across was grieving, some in tears. Long faces, silence. The force here isn’t that big, there are only 162 officers: everyone knows everybody: when an officer is killed or injured it ripples through the brotherhood. Because that’s what this police force is about.


What stings the most, considering the sacrifices, is that cops are universally presumed to be corrupt, and we know it.

Cops don’t make a lot of money in Venezuela. Most of them live in barrios. People think it’s a job for people who can’t do better than that, but I have met cops that speak perfect English, cops with specialist criminology or forensics degrees, with 10 or more years of service. They can definitely do other stuff, and still, they choose to be law enforcement officers.

What stings the most, considering the sacrifices, is that cops are universally presumed to be corrupt, and we know it. At El Hatillo, every single complaint about corruption is investigated through Internal Affairs and 58 officers have been dismissed for this kind of behavior.

But most cops risk their lives every day, on checkpoints, patrols or investigations and — as Kevin found out — even just when they go home. Day after day, their wages for it are people’s scorn.

Kevin used to work in Evidence. His wife worked for Internal Affairs. Days before his murder, some gang members were killed by CICPC, the National Investigative Police, and National Police Officers officers near the spot where Kevin was killed. We suspect he was killed in an act of revenge. He was shot 14 times in the face. That kind of MO is usually associated with score-settling.

“La Comandancia” felt absolutely bleak after the news came. Kevin’s office was just three doors down from mine. What a terrible week to start a new job.


When I see my fellow officers, I don’t see guys who became cops just for the shakedowns.

Yet everybody kept at it, just wanting to keep doing their job, as well as Kevin had done his, focusing on the hot spots, crime zones and every other useful tool that they could use to fight crime. In the days following Kevin’s murder, four suspects were caught and six vehicles were recovered. Life goes on, the work goes on.

When I see my fellow officers, I don’t see guys who became cops just for the shakedowns. I haven’t figured it out yet, but there’s something that just pushes a certain kind of person to take on one of the riskiest jobs in our country.

I see it in the fight against the gangs in Sisipa and Turgua, two outlying rural communities within our municipio.

Recently, one of Caracas’s deadliest gangs was taken down by CICPC, following an investigation the El Hatillo Police carried out in Sisipa. We set up checkpoints every day for months to gather info, we detained people for questioning and talked to neighbors and visitor. But the actions of El Hatillo Police did not stop at the prep-work: when the D Day arrived, three of our officers lead the search for suspects, guiding 30 heavily armed men from CICPC in the hunt. That takes talent, and commitment. I’m awed by these guys day in and day out.

But it’s not just brawn. It’s brains, too. I remember the day when we started using hotspot reports. Based on georeferencing software, hotspots produce a kind of roadmap of crime, on the basis of calls, social network keywords and police reports. Officers were coming into my office all the time to find out what the neighbors were asking. Once, after we checked the hotspot and social networks reports, we figured that many robberies were taking place in Los Naranjos in the early morning. For a couple of weeks, neighbors have been asking for police patrols and checkpoints. So, we talked to investigations and arranged two special operations in the area.

In the second one we caught the perpetrator, the motorbike and gun they were using. It was dicey: as they tried to get away, the perps shot at a car but missed. We know people sometimes tweet about crime out of frustration, feeling that an official “denuncia” is a waste of time. I bet they don’t realize those tweets lead to arrests.


But the tech gadgetry doesn’t change the fundamental calculus: in the end, we have to go head-to-head with the gangs.

Hotspot reports allow us to drill down on the places where criminals were making fear the norm, social media monitoring allows us to see where neighbors are asking for police checkpoints. Our goal is to get the word out that El Hatillo Police really does respond to every report. There are not minor crimes at El Hatillo.

But the tech gadgetry doesn’t change the fundamental calculus: in the end, we have to go head-to-head with the gangs. We try to support each other even in the worst moments: that’s the job. My colleagues never stop surprising me: they’re amazingly committed. They’re willing to give everything. Just ask Kevin.

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. Andrés,
    Thank you for the reminder that dedicated police still work in Caracas. May you be blessed and protected at all times. Eventually crime will go down in Venezuela and police will be the major force in it.

  2. “Everybody assumes every Venezuelan cop is corrupt.”

    Before even reading the article further than this line, got to clarify:

    No, not everybody things that every cop is corrupt, so please let’s cast aside the generalizations.

    • Well I do, because I’ve been subject to extortions and because I know that they can’t live with those salaries. Whatever your profession is, if you can’t live with what you’re paid, and people depend on you, I can almost understand why they rob

      • I agree with engoa. Also, the author’s phrase: “When I see my fellow officers, I don’t see guys who became cops just for the shakedowns” is implying that shakedowns are part of the equation, not everything.

        • My point is, that generalizations aren’t applicable to society in the same sense they can be used in math and logics.

          When one person claims that “everybody” does something, they’re referring to the 100%, no exceptions, and when it comes to social stuff, there’s a very high probablity that there will be counter examples to counter the absolute.

          A lot of people in the country believes that every cop is corrupt, yes, but not every single person in the country thinks the same way, some people still believe there are honest workers within the corps that are blackmailed into letting the corrupt ones do as they please.

          In the end, it’s a matter about how the things are said.

          • If you are in Venezuela, 3am, lonely place, 1 patrol gives you the Stop Advise; let me know if you are not feeling this “generalizations” that you said aren’t applicable. After that just imagine what an honest Cop is thinking at 3am, 1 patrol and lonely place.

    • PoliChacao, PoliBaruta and PoliHatillo used to be the only ones I trusted. Sadly, when they started having their own cases of dirty cops, my faith in them was cut back too. I still think they’re the only police forces worth a damn in the city but I will tread lightly around them.

  3. Corruption is a plague that affects every single layer in our society. Not just cops. It’s nice to see a reminder that there’s still people out there putting their lives on the line for all of us. Thank you for this piece and for every single day of hard work.

  4. Hi am reminded of a comment from a retired police detective who lived across from the house in free up in.

    “For every dirty copy, 10 good cops have to pay the price.”

    There is no doubt a lot of good police officers in specific units. There always are or the violence and mayhem would spiral completely out of control.

    The issue is not that there are not good cops to find. The problem is that there are so many bad ones still out there wearing a badge and carrying a gun. 3 dirty cops on a force of 50 is a real stain on the dept. But the numbers the author quotes in this article exceeds 20% of the force.

    From the perspective of a gringo, this is completely unacceptable. And then the idea that the citizens are left to only call for help and are completely disarmed except for a cell phone… What do you think the people should do? Pray for more socialism to further erode their quality of life?

    Nobody is calling for vigilantism or to take over the role of the police. But don’t pretend that these problems don’t exist and that the people don’t notice it.

    Many times dirty cops are ones that are just trying to get buy or maybe just limit the level of crime in an area to something that gets fewer people killed.

    The TV show “The Wire” had the concept of “Hampsterdam” and put all the bad eggs in one basket. Its not “right” But crime elsewhere went down. Were these cops dirty who came up with the idea? Yes, that was fiction and cops in the bario know full well what real life is like.

    So they take a bag of money. They turn their eyes away to avoid seeing what they should report. They go home to their families. You don’t make excuses for this type of activity unless you have a larger problem at hand.

  5. Thank you Andres for your article.

    We owe a debt of thanks to those that choose to serve while putting their lives in danger.

    Thank you, Andres, and thanks to your colleagues wherever they serve.

    I am proud of you!

  6. It’s easy to read what you describe but really hard to imagine for 1 sec Kevin is your family, your friend or harder, imaging that you are Kevin…

    Difficult to accept that in the Big Picture of our country it is just another sad history, but some of us still have hope, and like you are literally fighting for it.

  7. Of course there are many “good cops”, even in Vzla. But there are way too many bad cops, corrupt, extortionists, bullies abusing power, and even malandro cops. The Sebin and Guardia Nazional – cops in a way – are infamous for their numerous crimes.

    In Vzla this dates back to.. forever. I remember being extorted by cops at least 4 times, during the years I lived there. At alcabalas, at the airport, in the street, with bogus charges. They threatened you, and unless you game them all your cash, plus your watch or whatever, they wouldn’t let you go. It’s probably 20 x worse today under Chavismo. Everyone I’ve talked to has been abused by various “cops”. Everyone.

    Venezuela surpassed Honduras in violent deaths. We’re #1! Are the cops that good? Over 200,000 murders in 18 Chavista years. 95% impunity for crimes. Where is the great police force?

    It’s true that they can’t live with those meager salaries. And it’s true that many, many of them are corrupt, even violent, sometimes deadly. Venezuela today is not the USA: Here, the police is criticized, mainly by black people, due to a couple infamous incidents. But here, the Vast Majority of cops are indeed admirable, brave and honest. Not in Venezuela. I venture to say that at least Half of Venezuelan cops of all kinds are crooked, one way or another. They will abuse power, extort, break the rules, even kill. Not all, but perhaps half of them. Ask any of your friends or relatives, see how many times they’ve experienced cop abuse. Sebin, Guardia, PNBolivariana.. heck, even half of the Military are corrupt, as we all now.

    • There are no words to express the feelings one goes through when they are robbed or get extorted. The only way for it to get worse is when the gubmint is behind the crime and you have no recourse but to take the beatings. Take in the corruption and pretend it’s not your fault.

      But it is… It truely is. When the people give up and start to accept it as daily life and no longer fight back, that is when it’s all over. The war is lost and you need to face reality.

      Be a dead hero or a live chicken… Or get away from it. Let the ones who have accepted their lot in life go on enabling this type of horror and get out.

      These cops who sit by and watch as the crime flows down the street need to be forced to see the world for what it is. And at the barrel of a gun. So that they can begin to do what they said they would do. Uphold the law. Not break it as they see fit.

      • That’s the other thing about many cops, not all but most: they are Complicit with the criminal regime. The are countless accounts that they stand around, doing nothing, watching crimes being perpetrated, regular folks abused by “authorities”, suppress peaceful marches, throw gases, rubber bullets, and even physically abuse innocent anti-chavistas. Not all, but many..

        Granted, their jobs and salaries depend on following Chavista filthy orders, but how can one admire their obvious complicity, if not bad behavior?

  8. Yes there is substantial corruption, but, in a country where police wages/living areas are miserable, with one security officer/day killed, usually just to steal his gun, who wants to work at this kind of job, much less with “mistica”? My hat’s off to you, Andres.

  9. “Based on georeferencing software, hotspots produce a kind of roadmap of crime, on the basis of calls, social network keywords and police reports.”

    This is amazing. Hatillo is doing something a lot of U.S. PDs with vastly greater resources haven’t got working. I salute them.

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