Venezuela Passes National Police Law

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez promulgated the Organic Law of Police Service and National Police by presidential decree Wednesday, creating the legal framework for a single, integrated, national “revolutionary police of the People,” after nearly 6 years of legislative debate and public consultation.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

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President Hugo Chávez passed by presidential law-decree Wednesday the law (ABN)
President Hugo Chávez passed by presidential law-decree Wednesday the law (ABN)
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Mérida, April 10, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez promulgated the Organic Law of Police Service and National Police by presidential decree Wednesday, creating the legal framework for a single, integrated, national “revolutionary police of the People,” after nearly 6 years of legislative debate and public consultation. Chavez passed the law under the 18-month law-decree authority that the National Assembly had given him last year for this purpose.

Chávez acknowledged Wednesday evening that citizen security “has been deteriorating.” He advocated “profound changes” in order to “finish demolishing the old, repressive police model with education, conscience, social organization, and prevention.”

The president said the “capitalist” police forces of the past, which have been “generators of police abuses, not in the rich zones, but in the poor barrios,” will be gradually transformed into “communal police” that are “close to the citizens, dialogue-oriented, preventative, which shall be loved by the People and not feared by the People, and shall be part of the People.”     

Local community councils, which have proliferated since a 2006 law was created to facilitate their formation, will manage “security modules in each barrio,” where they will “work with the new police,” Chávez envisioned, emphasizing the preponderant role of governors, mayors, police academies, and local populations in this process.

Chávez called for “the best young men and women” to comprise the new brand of humanist police who will be the model for this “transformation from within the current police.” They will go through a “very rigorous” and “meticulous” selection process headed up by the Minister of Justice and the Interior Ramón Rodríguez Chacín.

The minister commented that the new law will fill in the “empty spaces” in the present system. “We must mobilize the battalions,” Chacín remarked, referring to the newly formed United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and “go house to house to exhibit the law, explaining the benefits and the co-responsibility that we have in this initiative.”

Zuleima Flores, the spokesperson of a Caracas community council, said the “soul of this new police will rest in the amount of solidarity that exists between the security forces, the communities, and the People…that is why we should collaborate and understand that these new police will be new citizens in our communities.”

Similarly, the Venezuelan Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, said in a radio interview, “to the extent that the police remain close to people, to the extent that the police participate in community issues... we will attenuate the violence and crime will diminish,” adding that “we are going to improve the conditions of the prisons, too.”

This constitutes the “integral format” of the new system, which improves citizen access to the levers of justice, in the opinion of Luisa Estela Morales, the president of the Supreme Court of Venezuela.

A prominent sceptic of the law is Eliseo Guzmán, the former director of Venezuela`s investigative police, who admitted he had not yet read the law. Designating a single national police body is unnecessary and brings with it “a lot of inconveniences,” Guzmán commented Wednesday to the Venezuelan daily El Nacional. He suggested that the government should have opted to improve the legal framework already in place, asserting, “we have police, but what we do not have is a functional coordination among all the actors.”

Guzmán also expressed that too many different proposals of the law had been circulated through a confusing array of constituencies during the formation process, rather than being sufficiently analyzed by what he called “specialists” in criminal justice.

The National Assembly initiated discussions of police reform in 2002 and created the National Police Reform Commission (CONAREPOL), which organized a nation-wide, community-based deliberation process during which approximately 700,000 Venezuelans participated in local police reform conferences, culminating in 2006. The council produced a report based on public recommendations that became the basis of the law which was passed by presidential decree Wednesday.   

All recent polls show that Venezuelans identify insecurity as the number one problem in their country.

Even so, Chávez boasted of the “positive impact” of his administration`s policies, citing a national poll conducted in March by the Venezuelan Data Analysis Institute (IVAD) that showed the percentage of Venezuelans who said that insecurity was the worst problem they faced dropped from 81.4% to 69.5% since 2007.

In contrast, El Nacional highlighted the findings of the Datos polling firm in late March, showing that between 34% and 41% of Venezuelans think the president is “totally responsible” for the nation`s problems, security being number one, while between 20% and 25% think he is “not at all responsible.”

The president also cited the 2007 annual poll of 18 Latin American countries by the highly-respected Chilean polling firm Latinobarometro, which reported that 38% of Venezuelans believed that “equal access to justice” existed in their country, while the average for the rest of Latin America was 22%.

In the same Latinobarometro study, however, Venezuela had the highest percentage of people who said they or a relative of theirs had fallen victim to a crime in the past year, with 49%, while the Latin America average was 38%.