In Defense of Venezuela’s Police Reform

By: Martha Lía Grajales Pineda, Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz

Originally published December 1, 2014 in El Universal

On October 27th President of the Republic Nicolás Maduro, announced the formation of a Presidential Commission for the transformation of police bodies in Venezuela and to construct a new police system. 

Problematic events like the participation of police officers in the horrendous assassination of the PSUV representative Robert Serra, and the death of various people in the Quinta Crespo incident, which seemed to indicate an excess on the part of police officers, triggered this important announcement.

There is no doubt that police and military corruption are amongst the various factors that feed the high levels of violence lived in our country. The participation of some officers from security bodies in organized criminal acts, [such as] the trafficking of guns and ammunition, have written painful pages in our history. Given this, the call made by the President of the Republic to purify and rectify all that is damaged in the country’s police could not be more relevant.

Nevertheless, this important mission should not assume its responsibilities without taking into account the path advanced by the process that began with the formation of the National Commission for Police Reform (CONAREPOL) in 2006.

This path—after an important process of citizen participation and a series of judicious academic investigations—paved the way for passage of the Organic Law for the Police Service and the National Police Body, the creation of the National Experimental Security University (UNES), the creation of the National Bolivarian Police, and the formation of the General Police Council.  All of these achievements constitute a legacy that President Chávez left us in with respect to policing.

This is not to say that the model proposed, which has been implemented to some small extent, has no room for improvement. Rather, if we build on this progress—evaluate and reorient wherever necessary, and continue down whatever the right path might be—we can advance towards a serious set of policies that contribute to the creation of a new form of governance. A new set of policies could structurally transform the factors that feed our historically classist and repressive police, and that combat the sensationalism that political pressure heaps on us to show rapid results.

In these matters, sensationalism is always conservative and promotes a mano dura (tough on crime) stance. But let’s not fool ourselves. Repressive security bodies that maintain a distance from popular sectors and function as their principal mechanism of control, which in turn justifies the every-so-often violation of human rights and the criminalization of poverty, not only contradict the leftist orientation of this political process but have already demonstrated their incapability to reduce violence in a structural manner.

Translated by Rebecca Hanson