Law enforcement in Venezuela
Law enforcement in Venezuela is highly fragmented, being split across multiple police agencies of various types.
The National Guard, with around 33,000 officers, is attached to the Ministry of Defence. The Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas, with around 8,000 officers, is the primary criminal investigation agency. The new Policía Nacional Bolivariana, created in 2009, had 2,400 officers in July 2010 (with a further 1,400 in training).
The Dirección de los Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevención (DISIP), part of the Ministry of Interior and Justice, is the counter-espionage police agency.
In addition, each of Venezuela's 23 states has its own police force, numbering around 50,000 officers altogether. Finally, since 1989's decentralization legislation, many municipalities have set up their own police forces.
In 1958 Venezuela overthrew the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, but for much of the 1958-1998 period the criminal justice and law enforcement system established under Jiménez and the earlier dictator Juan Vicente Gómez was not substantially reformed, and "the criminal justice system remained a blemish on this image of democracy". A small 1987 survey found that 74% of prisoners said that the police tortured them. The police relied heavily on obtaining confession evidence, and for poor defendants a lack of effective defence lawyers "led to frequent convictions of innocent people".
Other aspects of the justice system conspired to make this worse: "Venezuelan criminal procedure crushed poor and uneducated defendants in its Kafkaesque gears." Prisons were extremely violent, with a high probability of death or rape; and about 70% of prisoners were awaiting a judge's decision. After some years of public pressure, 1998 saw the drafting of a radically reformed criminal law, which came into effect in July 1999.
"Careful study of the different police agencies makes it evident that many do not have adequate infrastructure, and they are lacking in basic services or the spaces that are necessary for police activities (e.g., holding cells). In other cases, they do not even have their own building. Higher level technological resources (phones, fax, internet connection, computers, software) are relatively rare or, if present, are found only at central headquarters. Lack of, or deficiencies in, infrastructure are most marked for the municipal police.… [T]he majority of [all] police agencies are unable to assign a firearm to each officer on duty; neither are there sufficient handcuffs or bullet-proof vests. Some agencies have only one firearm for the whole force."
In general, the Commission found, "bureaucracy is weakly developed: three-quarters of state and municipal forces do not have a manual for procedures and two-thirds lack an organizational manual".
In November 2008 a Commission for the Police System (Comsipol) was created to implement CONAREPOL's recommendations. These included the creation of a National Police, which was done in 2009. Other recommendations were that the police should be specifically trained in human rights, and have a greater emphasis on crime prevention. The Experimental Security University was set up in 2009 to provide this training.
Secret police organizations
- Dirección de los Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevención (DISIP)
- Dirección de Inteligencia Militar (DIM)
- Venezuelanalysis.com, 23 July 2010, New Police Force Reduces Crime
- Birkbeck, Christopher (2009), "Venezuela: the shifting organizational framework for the police", Police Practice and Research, Volume 10, Issue 4 August 2009 , pages 295 - 304
- Alguindigue, Carmen; Perdomo, Rogelio Perez (2008), "Inquisitor Strikes Back: Obstacles to the Reform of Criminal Procedure", Southwestern Journal of International Law, Vol. 15, Issue 1 (2008), pp. 101-122
- Venezuelanalysis, 3 April 2009, Human Rights and Police Reform in Venezuela: A Venezuelan Perspective
- CONAREPOL (2006), quoted in Birkbeck (2009)
- Antillano, A. Gabaldn, L. G. and Antillano, A. (eds) (2007) "Caracteristicas de la polica venezolana." La polica venezolana: Desarrollo institucional y perspectivas de reforma al inicio del Tercer Milenio 1, pp. 64-158. Comision Nacional para la Reforma Policial, Caracas; cited in Birkbeck (2009)
- Venezuelanalysis, 30 March 2009, Crime in Venezuela: Opposition Weapon or Serious Problem?
- Human Rights and Police Reform in Venezuela: A Venezuelan Perspective
- Le Monde Diplomatique, 7 August 2010, Venezuela murder mystery