HomeNewsAnalysisGangs of Ex-Police Emerge in Colombia
ANALYSIS

Gangs of Ex-Police Emerge in Colombia

COLOMBIA / 15 NOV 2011 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

Ex-police in two of the most troubled Colombian provinces have allegedly moved up the criminal ladder, shifting from tacitly supporting criminal groups to becoming players in the underworld in their own right.

According to local media, a significant number of police officers in the provinces of Antioquia and Meta have abandoned their posts in favor of a life of crime. El Tiempo, citing a classified report from an unnamed foreign intelligence agency, reports that ex-police in these regions are at the head of criminal networks devoted to extortion and drug trafficking. According to the report, these structures once worked in the service of local criminal groups, but now function independently.

The report says that the city of Medellin, Antioquia, is an epicenter for these groups, who are known in parts of the north of the city as the “poli-band,” a portmanteau of the Spanish words for “police” and “criminal band.” One such group in particular, the “Soto gang,” is singled out as having high degree of control over commerce, politics and extortion in the city. “In the past they [simply] did not report criminal acts,” the report’s authors claimed, “Now they have become leaders and executors.”

Indeed, several recent incidents in both Antioquia and Meta support this claim. In July, three police officers stationed in northern Medellin were convicted of demanding an extortion payment, or "vacuna," from a restaurant owner. In 2008, 14 local police officers were accused of extortion and drug trafficking in the city.

There is evidence of similar corruption in the Meta town of Puerto Rico. El Tiempo claims that some 35 former police officers and soldiers are involved in extortion and drug trafficking in the town. Many of them, according to the newspaper, were previously linked with the Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) head Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias "Cuchillo,"·who was killed in a shootout in late 2010.

Police corruption has a long history in Colombia, but it usually involves the officials taking a much less direct role in criminal activity. In most reported cases, the police accept kickbacks from local gangs such as the Rastrojos or Urabenos, receiving the money in return for looking the other way when crimes are committed in their jurisdiction. There are also several reports of police officers accepting regular payments at police checkpoints (usually along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts) in return for allowing drug shipments to pass through undisturbed.

The concern is that Colombia could see the emergence of criminals groups made exclusively of former military or police -- as with the Zetas in Mexico. The group was initially composed almost exclusively of former Special Forces soldiers. Although they were initially formed as the enforcer wing of the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas broke away in 2010, and are now known as one of the most ruthless drug gangs in the country.

The prospect of “police gangs” in Colombia is worrisome not only in terms of its immediate security threat, but also because of what it means for the integrity of the country’s judicial institutions. Those involved in these criminal networks cannot be expected to operate in the same way as other criminal groups. Because of their backgrounds, these individuals have a number of contacts which are still active in law enforcement, providing them with enhanced ability to carry out their criminal operations with impunity.

Colombia has worked hard to screen its security forces in recent years, with the government announcing several different initiatives aimed at screening police departments throughout the country for corrupt elements. Given the severity of the allegations in the El Tiempo article, however, it would seem that much more work remains to be done.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCA / 25 MAR 2021

The sheer size of Colombia's reserves makes them a target for the illegal clearing, appropriation and sale of protected land.

POLICE REFORM / 10 JAN 2014

The fact that Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro went on national television and directly addressed the tragic murders of actress Monica…

EL SALVADOR / 19 JUL 2012

Despite promises to expand the force, and the need to consolidate the security gains of a truce between rival gangs,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…