Puebla, Mexico, June 10, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government said Thursday it had opened an investigation into the conduct of 12 police officers from the opposition stronghold of Chacao.
Venezuela's interior minister, Gustavo Gonzalez, said the 12 officers were all from POLICHACAO, the police department in the opposition-controlled Caracas municipality of Chacao. The police force has been accused of widespread misconduct, including human rights abuses.
According to the interior minister, nine officers have been suspended without pay, and are facing allegations of “cruel treatment and robbing prisoners”. He said another six officers have already been fired under allegations of misconduct.
POLICHACAO has faced intense scrutiny from national authorities since late May, when a high ranking military official was killed in Santa Monica, Caracas. Polichacao officers were accused of murdering Army Major General Felix Velasquez, after the weapon used to kill the military official was found on the premises of Polichacao's headquarters.
President Nicolas Maduro has claimed the department is part of a wider criminal conspiracy involving paramilitary groups. The president has also hit out at Chacao's opposition mayor, Ramon Muchacho, who he has accused of dragging his feet in tackling misconduct at the police department.
“How much this Mayor, Ramon Muchacho, knows about this, I don’t believe anything he says, they are experts in the 'I didn’t do it', the oligarchy who order to kill and then wash their hands,” said Maduro earlier this month.
Opposition figures have responded by claiming the national government's scrutiny of POLICHACAO is politically motivated.
However, this is not the first time POLICHACAO has been accused by national authorities of misconduct. In 2011, 10 officers were accused of involvement in the beating of a group of detainees. The allegations surfaced after footage of the beatings from 2010 was leaked to the national government, sparking a public outcry.
Yet POLICHACAO is not the only police force accused of misconduct in recent days.
Earlier this week, the Venezuelan Attorney General's office charged the head of POLITACHIRA with the murder of a 42 year-old woman during a protest in the border town of San Cristobal.
Many local police departments nationwide have long faced allegations of widespread corruption over the past years.
In the mid 2000s, the national government vowed to reform policing across the country, arguing that as many as one in five crimes were being committed by police officers themselves.
The government's solution was to promote a new model of policing with an emphasis on human rights and community cooperation.
While the government says it has made some progress – particularly around the capital with the creation of a national police force– the original idea of the national police was to bypass the corrupt and underfunded local police departments.
However, so far the national police are largely limited to areas of Caracas, while the rest of the country continues to be policed by smaller, regional forces.