Over 100 Venezuelan security officials have been linked to extortion this year, a reflection of the nation's crumbling state and dire economic situation.
Some 38 extortion cases involving 121 security force members were reported in Venezuela between January 1 and September 3, according to El Nacional. The actual number, however, is believed to be much higher as extortion is one of the least reported crimes, the Venezuelan newspaper added.
In total, agents from 15 security force branches were implicated. Most represented was Venezuela's investigative police agency (CICPC) with 46 members, followed by the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) with 26 members.
Highlighted cases included police holding citizens' vehicles for ransom and arresting people when extortion payments were not met.
According to Sergio Gonzalez, the former head of CICPC internal investigations, extortion has always been common among Venezuela security forces, but has increased recently with degenerating economic conditions and poor recruiting practices, reported El Nacional.
"Unfortunately we don't see commitment in the new agents. It looks like they're only after the money," Gonzalez was quoted as saying.
InSight Crime Analysis
Allegations of corruption at even the highest levels of Venezuela's government is not uncommon. But unlike drug trafficking carried out by military personnel -- frequently referred to as the "Cartel of the Suns" -- extortion by security forces appears linked to the nation's struggling economy and government.
In 2011, Venezuela disbanded the Caracas Metropolitan Police as part of reforms aimed at tackling police corruption. Despite such efforts, security forces -- particularly the PNB and the CICPC -- have since been accused of committing crimes like extortion, kidnapping, and grisly extra-judicial killings.
SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles
The problem seems to stem in large part from Venezuela's troubles with training and paying police, including a reported seven-month period in 2014 when police received no pay at all. It thus appears some officers are coping by using their position to commit crimes to help offset poor wages.
Unfortunately, Venezuela's suffering economy has left the government -- which often appears more interested in political posturing than real police reform -- with scant resources to remedy the situation.
Instead of meaningfully addressing failed policies, the Venezuelan government has taken to blaming neighboring Colombia for both its economic and security woes. With real reform in either arena unlikely, as Venezuela's economy collapses and hyper-inflation takes its toll police corruption will likely only continue to worsen.