HomeNewsAnalysisVenezuela Police-Collective Clash Highlights Reform Challenges
ANALYSIS

Venezuela Police-Collective Clash Highlights Reform Challenges

COLECTIVOS / 4 NOV 2014 BY REBECCA HANSON* EN

A few months ago I was in Caracas, Venezuela having coffee with Alexis when our conversation was interrupted by a startling text message. After reading it he shared disturbing news: a police officer friend had been shot outside his house the night before.

Alexis is a former police officer who quit in order to join a state institution charged with implementing the national police reform that began in 2009. He made the move after becoming disgusted by the corruption and uncontrolled violence he witnessed.

I expressed my sympathy and asked what could be done. He replied despondently, "No one looks for delinquents when they kill an officer anymore, unless it represents a political problem..."

He went on to explain that this was the 14th officer of his graduating cohort from the police university that had been killed. With a tone of resignation, he said it was unlikely that anyone would be arrested, much less prosecuted.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) blog Venezuela Politics and Human Rights. See original article here.

"What you feel in these situations is impotency...It makes me want to return to the past when there was a special force that went out and looked for these guys until they were put underground [killed]."

Alexis' feelings come from his belief -- common among Venezuelan police -- that the government and its criminal justice system are either uninterested or incapable of protecting officers' lives.

These feelings are exacerbated by the fact that the number of officers killed continually goes up: 106 in Caracas just this year [as of October 23]. Many officers attribute the increase to gun control measures that were passed by the government of late President Hugo Chavez. According to them, these measures make guns and ammunition harder to come by and make officers targets for their weapons.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

Officers' insecurities are further intensified by the power struggle they report between themselves and armed collectives (colectivos).

The violent confrontation between the CICPC (Venezuela's investigative police) and the Shield of the Revolution colectivo in the downtown neighborhood of Quinta Crespo has brought this struggle into the public spotlight.

There are multiple versions of what motivated the police operation. One leading crime reporter has suggested they acted precisely because the colectivo members were leading suspects in the murder of a police officer. What is clearly known is that when it was over five colectivo members were dead.

The CICPC is one of the most lethal and violent of Venezuela's police forces and has been the branch most resistant to reform and oversight. In fact, the number of extrajudicial killings carried out by the CICPC have actually gone up since reform was implemented in 2009, topping out at an all-time high of 99 from 2012-2013.

The government responded to the Quinta Crespo violence with a dramatic shakeup of Venezuela's police institutions. Six CICPC officers were arrested, the CICPC's administration was reorganized, and Miguel Rodriguez Torres, the Minister of Justice, was removed. President Nicolas Maduro even called for a revolutionizing of the police.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Police Reform

I talked to Alexis a few days after the incident. He told me that most likely these CICPC officers 'saw the opportunity to take out a group of criminals who enjoy the protection of the government and took it.'

His statement reveals a logic common among officers: In order to fight crime and hold cop killers accountable the police must act extra-legally since state institutions protect criminals rather than punishing them.

And therein lies the dilemma.

Extrajudicial killings are hardly uncommon, but rarely do they generate such a dramatic response by the government. While not inappropriate, the response to the deaths will reinforce officers' perceptions that the government supports armed colectivos more than them. And this interpretation will intensify officers' feelings of vulnerability and impotence, feeding into their justifications for extrajudicial violence.

Absent a consistent, fair and effective court system, officers will continue to use excessive force to both "combatir el hampa" (fight the criminal underworld) and "take care of their own." Like many in the poor barrios they tend to come from, officers believe that exercising violence communicates to others that they can protect themselves and their group.

*A version of this article originally appeared on the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) blog Venezuela Politics and Human Rights. See original article here.

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

MONEY LAUNDERING / 19 NOV 2019

A University of Miami professor and expert on organized crime in Latin America has been charged with laundering millions of…

BRAZIL / 20 FEB 2017

Brazil's deployment of thousands of military police to Rio de Janeiro ahead of Carnival, amid fears of police strikes linked…

HOMICIDES / 3 DEC 2015

Venezuela's social and economic disarray has resulted in a sharp increase in the amount of children involved in crime, spotlighting…

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…