Some 26 Caracas police officers have been murdered so far this year, and analysts warn that they may be being targeted by criminals who want to steal their weapons.
The assassination of Reinaldo Jose Mata Malave outside his home earlier this week brought the number of police officers murdered in greater Caracas in 2012 to 26. According to El Nacional, Mata was killed for his police-issued weapon, a Beretta pistol.
Criminologist Javier Gorriño told El Universal that this type of crime is becoming increasingly common because criminals no longer fear the police, stating, "The police have become a target for their guns."
Gorriño added that another factor driving the increased rate of police homicides -- of which there were 83 in greater Caracas last year -- is that criminals seek to elevate their status by taking out officers.
InSight Crime Analysis
The tally of 26 Caracas police officers killed in the first two-and-a-half months of 2012 puts the figure on pace to surpass last year's total by around 50 percent.
Some NGOs have reported that 2011 was Venezuela's most violent year ever, with Caracas' murder rate of 108 per 100,000 inhabitants making it the most dangerous city in South America. Much of this violence can be attributed to the wide availability of guns -- 90 percent of murders in the capital last year were committed with a firearm.
The government of Hugo Chavez has made efforts to curb the prevalence of guns. It created a commission in June 2011 with the aim of tightening gun regulation in the country, imposing a 180-day freeze on their sale and import. More than 117,000 firearms were destroyed by the authorities in the first 11 months of 2011, nearly doubling the previous year's total of 65,000.
This crackdown may have hit supply, helping explain why police officers are being targeted for their guns.