A team of Colombian police officers has gone undercover to catch corrupt colleagues, the latest in a series of Latin American police reform initiatives whose success has varied wildly.
Passing themselves off as drug addicts and dealers, a group of officers from Colombia’s police investigation and intelligence units are secretly observing agents across the country looking for evidence they are hiding or facilitating illegal acts.
Where wrongdoing is uncovered, officers will be fired then prosecuted under civilian justice, reported El Tiempo.
The operation has already caught ten officers in the southwest department of Cauca — a hub for drug production and trafficking, with the trade there estimated to be worth around $5 million a month — who are accused of accepting money from criminals, in return for waving through the transport of precursor chemicals to cocaine processing laboratories.
According to police figures, 235 officers have been captured for alleged criminal activity so far this year. The most common accusations include collaborating with gangs, assault, and theft, with more than 5,000 ongoing investigations.
Policing and corruption have long gone hand in hand in Latin America, a major factor feeding organized crime throughout the region. Last year 65,000 Mexican officers were found unfit to serve; in Brazil, more than 60 percent of the population is reported to distrust the police; while in Guatemala, security cameras have been installed in patrol cars and badges fitted with microchips, in order to monitor police officers. This is just a small selection of examples illustrating how widespread the problem is.
In Colombia, the police force has more or less overcome a historic reputation of corruption and is now viewed as a regional leader in policing, training counterparts in other countries. However, corruption is still a problem, with the most common cases involving police accepting bribes from drug traffickers in return for allowing safe passage of product — as seen with the recent incident in Cauca.
Major police reform projects are being undertaken across Latin America, with varying levels of success. In Honduras, police have been subjected to confidence tests, but no one seems to know what’s actually being done with the results. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, a major police reform initiative begun in 2006 has brought about some important advances, such as the creation of a new university to train officers.