Will Venezuela’s Citizen Security Reform Continue Despite Re-militarization?

Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde

January saw an accentuation of the progressive remilitarization of citizen security under the Maduro government, with military officers placed at the head of the National Security University (UNES) and the National Police (PNB). These changes amount to a setback to citizen security reforms that have attempted to separate the military and the police since 2008. 

Nevertheless, there have been a number of security announcements made in the past few weeks that suggest citizen security reform is not dead. 

At the end of January the government announced an initiative called “Intelligent Patrolling.” It divides hot spot municipalities into more manageable quadrants in order to allow police officers and the People’s Guard (a branch of the National Guard) to respond more quickly and efficiently to reports of crime and emergencies. Particular police units have been assigned to these quadrants and are given corresponding telephone numbers that residents in that area can call for police attention. The plan has been implemented in six municipalities in Caracas, deploying 3,700 officers to 158 quadrants (for maps of these quadrants click here).

The Ministry of Interior and Justice argues that the plan is innovative in its “place-based” approach to policing and will result in faster police response time, more accurate information on when and where crimes take place, and improved strategies to deal with that crime.

Insiders suggest that while it is positive that the government has adopted the term “patrolling”–long a point of contention in Venezuela’s police reform–this initiative does not reflect an understanding of it. Rather, it simply adds cell phone numbers to the traditional stationary checkpoint approach–some have called the plan “alcalbala inteligente." Furthermore, the initiative can only work if people actually call the police. The fact that many Venezuelans think that reporting crimes is either futile or dangerous could be a major impediment.

The MIJ has also moved forward with the Citizen Police Oversight Committees (Comites Ciudadanos de Control Policial, CCCPs). These groups came out of the 2008 reform and are intended to oversee police functions, operations, administration, and resources. The first set of committees, organized 2 years ago, held elections last November for new committees that will serve for the next 3 years.

On January 31st 25 new committees were inaugurated at the National Security Ministry by Rodríguez Torres. The extent to which these groups have been able to perform their external oversight functions is still unclear. The committees’ first few years have been challenging due to limited access to information, the political upheavals of 2013, and resistance on the part of police supervisors. However, the elections, as well as Rodríquez Torres’ presence at the inauguration, suggest that citizen participation in security will not be totally abandoned.

Finally, the government has continued to discuss a ban on the carrying of arms by citizens. This measure was originally included in the disarmament proposal written by the Presidential Disarmament Commission. However, it was removed from the final proposal due to lobbying pressure within the National Assembly, substantially reducing the law’s impact.

At the end of January, both Rodríguez Torres and Maduro stated that they supported renewing the debate over a total ban on civilians carrying guns. Given that many of those originally against this ban in the National Assembly were military officers, the backing of Rodriguez Torres—a general in the National Guard—could be influential.