Colombian police and Armed Forces cooperate to reduce crime
By Dialogo March 13, 2014
Overall crime in Colombia has plunged to levels not seen in more than 30 years, thanks to the efforts of the country’s security forces.
The dramatic decrease in crime is attributable to security initiatives led by Gen. Rodolfo Palomino López, chief of the Colombian National Police, and the Ministry of Defense, which is led by Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno. These security initiatives rely heavily on the use of intelligence. The National Police and the Armed Forces cooperated closely on several security initiatives.
Colombia experienced a reduction in several crime categories in 2013.
Homicides declined by 7 percent, bank robberies decreased by 15 percent, residential burglaries were down by nearly 11 percent, and thefts of motor vehicles declined by 5 percent.
There were increases, some of them dramatic, in other categories. Organized crime attacks were responsible for dramatic surges in two types of crime, extortion, which increased by 52 percent, and attacks on oil infrastructure, which went up by nearly 72 percent.
Seizures of explosives and drugs
Security forces have seized large numbers of explosives and drugs in recent years.
For example, between 2011 and 2013, Colombian security forces seized 130 tons of explosives and destroyed 35,847 explosive devices, according to the Ministry of Defense.
The Colombian National Police (PNC) and Armed Forces have also confiscated large quantities of drugs.
Between 2011 and 2013, security forces seized 393 tons of cocaine, which were worth more than $12 million (USD), authorities said. In 2012, the National Police seized 548,697 kilograms of cocaine, cocaine base, crack cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. That was 76,000 kilograms more – an increase of 16 percent – from the amount security forces seized in 2011.
Seizures of marijuana were also up sharply. In 2013, security forces seized 347 tons of marijuana, 50 tons more than they confiscated in 2012. It was the highest quantity of marijuana Colombian security forces have seized since 1993.
The Antinarcotics Division of the National Police, led by Gen. Ricardo Alberto Restrepo, and the Criminal Investigation Office, led by Brig. Gen. Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, cooperated with the Cauca polic to seize 468 kilograms of heroin in 2012.
Throughout the country, security forces in 2012 seized more than 91,000 hallucinogenic pills, a 93 percent increase over the number of pills the National Police and the Armed Forces confiscated in 2011.
Social media campaign
The PNC is using social media to improve public safety.
The PNC has a significant presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest and YouTube. Overall, the PNC has more than 1 million followers on different social media platforms. The PNC uses social media to spread messages about how to avoid robberies, kidnappings, and extortions. The PNC puts out a steady stream of messages about community-based prevention programs. The PNC also uses social media to provide phone numbers that members of the public can use to report crimes and provide information on suspects.
The social media efforts have helped the PNC connect with the civilian community. The community is responding by providing the PNC more information, which helps police solve crimes and find stolen items. For example, from December 2013 through February 2014, the PNC has recovered 1,333 stolen motorcycles and 536 stolen cars.
Goals and challenges
The PNC and the Armed Forces are executing a security strategy that involves the gathering and use of intelligence, cracking down on organized crime groups, higher levels of professionalism, and improved relationships with local communities.
“All security forces in Colombia have implemented management strategies such as strategic planning, defining objectives to results but based on respect for human rights and the humanization of the police service, and training programs for the development of specific skills,” said Sonia Andrade, a security analyst at the Superior School of Colombian Police and the Colombian Army Intelligence and Counterintelligence University.
Police have improved public safety with the “Safety Quadrant, Safety City Program,” in which security forces are deployed to specific neighborhoods to maximize visible police presence and response time.
The PNC’s “Green Heart” program has also helped improve public safety, Andrade said.
In the Green Heart initiative, police concentrate on protecting communities vulnerable to organized crime enterprises, fighting extortion, and combatting the theft of oil and minerals.
Among the organized crime groups which operate in Colombia are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); the National Liberation Army (ELN); Los Urabenos, Los Rastrojos, and the BACRIM. The Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexican transnational criminal organization, also operates in the country. On Feb. 22, 2014, Mexican security forces captured cartel’s longtime kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
A need for continued vigilance
While security forces have made progress in lowering the rate of killings and other crimes, they must remain vigilant against the theft of oil from pipelines and attacks against oil industry infrastructure.
Attacks on oil infrastructure increased by nearly 72 percent in 2013. These attacks create economic and environmental damage and create psychological damage, Andrade said.
“This form of terrorism affects the economy and the perception of security, besides the enormous ecological damage that is caused by each of these crimes, decreases the possibility of foreign investment and increases security costs,” Andrade said.
The PNC and the Armed Forces are working hard to prevent attacks on oil infrastructure and to capture those who commit these crimes.
Security forces are also cracking down on domestic drug sales, Andrade said.
In recent years, organized crime groups like the FARC and Los Urabenos have sold more drugs inside Colombia, authorities said. About 20 percent of the drugs produced in Colombia are sold to drug users inside the country, officials said.
“We went from being a producer country to a consumer country, with variables such as the so-called ‘electronic bazuco’ (slot machines and other gambling games),” Andrade said. “Criminal gangs have taken ownership of these businesses and does not discriminate in its expansion. This scourge of drug addiction and gambling is increasingly penetrating our youth from an early age and is becoming the cause for which they are committing crimes.”
Fighting organized crime
The PNC is cooperating with Interpol on a security initiative known as the Enterprise Security Front. The partnership is known as the Direction of Criminal Investigation and Interpol (DIJIN).
The DIJIN concentrates on fighting transnational criminal organizations. The DIJIN operates throughout the country to stop the criminal enterprises of the FARC and other organized crime groups.
Meanwhile, authorities are trying to achieve a long-term resolution to the 50-year conflict with the FARC. Government representatives are engaged in ongoing peace talks with the FARC in Havana.
“We are witnessing a peace negotiation. This can be a great opportunity for peace,” Andrade said. “One of our challenges is to combat urban violence. We're not talking about a fight at the institutional level but citizen participation. Colombia requires a cultural change. Education programs in the social and civic field to eliminate intolerance and avoid confrontations between civilians.”