The recent killing of five police officers in Venezuela's capital raises the question of whether nervous police will continue to fight crime proactively, at a time when the government is using them more to patrol supermarkets and suppress protests.
According to El Nacional, of the five police officers who were killed in Caracas last weekend, at least two were members of the National Bolivarian Police, a body meant to act as the city's highly-trained, community police force.
El Nacional also reported that there were 132 police officers killed in Caracas in 2014, a 32 percent increase from those killed in 2013. The newspaper interviewed several officers who said that many police were feeling under threat, and were doing the minimum they could get away with to prevent and stop crime during their patrols.
"We don't go looking for the underworld because they can look for us," one police officer told the newspaper.
The newspaper also reported that more police in Caracas are interested in going into private security, seeing it as a safer bet than police work. Sucre, a municipality in the Caracas metropolitan area, has seen 30 percent of its police force quit since 2012, while another municipality, Baruta, saw 40 police agents express an interest in going into private security in December alone, according to El Nacional.
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If more police in Caracas are feeling under threat, one risk is that more of them will continue relying on excessive force to respond to perceived threats. Venezuela's police are notoriously brutal: almost 3,500 people died in confrontations with police in Venezuela last year, according to non-governmental organization (NGO) the Venezuelan Violence Observatory. On January 10, eight people were reportedly killed in a confrontation with the security forces in northeastern Venezuela, including the investigative police force, the CICPC.
Another question is if police morale is indeed sinking, what would the police response be in the event of another outbreak of social unrest in Venezuela? President Nicolas Maduro recently asked the security forces to maintain order in supermarkets, as people continue to queue up in long lines to buy basic goods. In the worst case scenario, should riots break out, the police may not be willing to put themselves in harm's way.
Police killings are just one manifestation of Venezuela's pervasive violence, which saw about 16,500 homicides in 2014. A total of 18 bodies were brought to Caracas' morgue last weekend, including a member of the Presidential Guard.