There are currently over 550 private security guards working in the Bolivian capital La Paz, an alarmingly high number that points to the public distrust of the country's police force and raises questions over how useful a stop-gap this can really be.
Bolivia police's agency monitoring these firms, known by its acronym JEDECOES, says 563 private security guards employed by some 39 security firms are currently operating in La Paz, La Razon reported. The companies provide protection to individuals and businesses, serving primarily as a surveillance outfit to report threats to the police force.
Raul Moreno, the head of one security company, told La Razon, "We do not act violently. It isn't allowed. Our main objective is to develop an efficient system of prevention; only in the event of imminent risk do we intervene."
Despite the 39 security firms being legally registered, there are a number who operate without the proper authorization. Moreno stated that these companies are able to get business because they often charge far less than their legitimate counterparts, though they are a far more risky option for clients due to the lack of regulation of their services.
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The government has safeguarded against the use of force outside of its control by prohibiting the carrying and use of arms by private guards. However, the high number of security firms in the capital raises questions over why people feel the need to rely on them for protection over the police.
It may be an issue of trust. Bolivia's vice-minister of citizen security, Miguel Vasquez, announced earlier this year that 85 percent of crime in the country's major cities go unreported because people don't trust the police. The force have also faced countless accusations of corruption and links to organized crime in recent years. There have been seven police chiefs in the past six years. The most recent switch occurred in May after corruption allegations.
Though private firms may serve as a stop-gap, there are risks that the lack of oversight could mean increased lawlessness. In 2010, it was found that only around 15 percent of private companies in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, an organized crime hotbed, were legal. Companies operating outside the legal constraints could in theory port firearms and add to Bolivia's worryingly high levels of vigilantism, most recently evidenced through the burning of two Brazilian prisoners by community members last month.