Caracas, December 21st 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched the first unit of the new Bolivarian National Police (PNB) in Sucre parish, Libertador municipality, western Caracas, on Sunday as part of an ongoing process of police reform.
The aim is to transform the policing model in order to deal with one of Venezuela’s most pressing issues: crime.
Last month Chavez warned that the problem of crime is becoming a “counter-revolutionary fifth column,” that threatens the Bolivarian revolution, as the process of progressive change underway in Venezuela is known. A new policing model that is respected and run by the people is necessary, the head of state argued.
Polls consistently show that Venezuelans perceive crime to be the biggest problem in the country. Criminal gangs operate in many of Venezuela’s neighbourhoods and armed robbery, kidnapping and homicide are common. According to figures from the justice ministry there were more than 12,000 homicides in the first eleven months of this year.
“We’re going to defeat crime,” Chavez told the uniformed cadets on their first day of active duty yesterday.
“We are attending to one of the most deeply felt issues of our population, crime prevention,” the president said during his weekly television show Hello President on Sunday.
The head of state stressed that the new police force is trained with humanist ethics.
“This is mainly a preventive, community police force, from the national to the community level, a police force that is strong in fulfilling human rights,” Chavez said.
The president announced that the new policing body would have a budget of 1.64 billion bolivars (U.S. $764 million) for 2010.
Previously on December 6, Chavez also announced the base salary of an PNB officer would be 2,800 bolivars (US $1,300) per month, approximately three times the current average police salary in Venezuela.
Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami said the national police will also have opportunities to pursue academic study.
Initially, the nascent police force of 950 agents will operate in the most violent districts of the capital, but the government plans to increase their numbers and extend their operations to other parts of the country.
Currently, there are more than 126 different police agencies in Venezuela under the control of various municipal, state and national governments, all with varying entry criteria and guidelines. The lack of a national structure poses challenges for regulation and accountability of the policing system.
“At the moment, there is no police system in Venezuela,” Soraya El Achkar of the General Police Council said in an October 21 BBC report; “There are just lots of different police bodies.”
“So we need to transform the police, we need to standardise them and make them professional,” she argued.
El Aissami told a police conference in October that many of these different police agencies are linked to crime rings and that the police are responsible for between 15-20% of criminal activity throughout the country.
“We know that part of the drama which our country is experiencing is because the majority of police agencies have been penetrated by criminal elements,” El Aissami was quoted as saying in the same BBC report. “And that is simply intolerable.”
The new police force will seek to reduce crime through preventive measures rather than repression, adopting the socialist ideals of the Bolivarian revolution, El Aissami explained in a swearing in ceremony of officers on December 18.
“This police force will not be to satisfy the interests of the oligarchy, it will be for the people, for the communities,” he said.
“The National Police will guarantee a culture of peace in the neighbourhoods, to eliminate violence inherited from the bourgeois capitalist model,” he declared.
The Justice Minister warned that correctional measures would be applied to any police officer engaged in corruption or abuse of privileges. “We can not allow a single corrupt person inside the police,” he added.
“The National Police must be a decent body, irreproachable and ethical for which we must ensure proper conduct by officials,” he said.
Venezuelan opposition sectors have expressed reservations about the police reforms.
Mayor of Sucre municipality Carlos Ocariz, from the opposition Justice First party, said “We hope that the creation of the National Police is to cooperate, assist and coordinate with all other municipal police forces and not to replace them.”
Opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma of the right-wing Brave People Alliance has accused the government of trying to “politicise” the police.
However, Chavez responded on Sunday arguing that the opposition only wants a police force that defends the interests of the rich. If the opposition returned to power in Venezuela they would “unleash relentless persecution…because they hate the people,” he said.
They would unleash persecution “against the communal councils, Barrio Adentro [the free healthcare program], the social missions, the National Police, the street vendors, the armed forces,” he reiterated.
The country would be in a mess, he added, “because they would come with an infinite hatred to recover what they think is theirs, but is not theirs. Rather, it belongs to the people.”