Colombian Police Chief José Roberto León Riaño Lauds Security Successes
By Dialogo June 21, 2013
Gen. José Roberto León Riaño, director of Colombia’s National Police, praised the government of President Juan Manuel Santos for reducing the level of drug trafficking and terrorism in his country.
“Before, Colombia was viewed as a sort of narco-democracy,” said León, who was appointed to his current job by Santos nearly a year ago. Previously, he had served as deputy director of the same agency and is responsible for designing the Quadrants National Neighborhood Watch Program now in operation.
León spoke at a May 22 seminar, “Citizen Security in Colombia.” His visit was sponsored by Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.
At one point, León said, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had as many as 32,000 fighters under its control. Today, FARC’s ranks have been reduced to 8,000, he said. Authorities have captured 41 of the group’s leaders while dismantling drug cartels in Medellín, Cali and Bogotá, and along the Atlantic coast. Meanwhile, the incidence of both coca production and kidnapping have dropped.
Quadrants Plan put into action
But once the doors to profitable drug trafficking and terrorism are closed, police will face other problems such as cell phone theft and micro-extortion — in which businesses, especially in the mining sector, are charged for daily or weekly protection.
“The worries of Colombians from 15 years ago are not the same as those of today,” León said, noting that gold mining has become a particularly lucrative source of funds for organized crime.
Although the leaders of gangs such as Los Urabeños, Renacer, Los Rastrojos and Héroes del Vichada have been captured — causing the gangs to lose territory and influence — some of their members are now involved in micro-trafficking instead.
In order to effectively combat these new security problems, Colombia’s National Police has instituted its Quadrants Plan, whose goal is to boost police presence in vulnerable municipalities throughout the country and reduce violent crime.
Under the plan, a “block officer” on every street helps ensure that police presence. Such officers must be responsive to citizens’ needs, be transparent in their actions, act in a friendly manner to locals and show empathy, León said.
Kidnapping also on the decline, says NGO
In April, the nonprofit group Fundación País Libre reported that the incidence of kidnapping in Colombia had dropped to the lowest level in a decade.
The NGO said 58 people were kidnapped during the first three months of this year, down from 97 over the same period in 2012. This translates into an average 4.5 kidnappings per week, compared to eight per week in 2000. In Bogotá, the drop in kidnappings is even more dramatic: only three so far this year, down from 21 in January, February and March of 2012.
But the foundation’s director, Clara Rojas, said “this figure is just a sample and it does not yet fully reveal the whole picture, since unfortunately around 75 percent of those affected do not report these crimes.”
Police Chief José Roberto León Riaño said that at present, 32 percent of taxes paid by Colombian citizens goes toward security. The country has established 28 training schools for officers, with more in the pipeline.
León said Colombia — with its stable economy and improving long-term outlook — is an example for the rest of the world when it comes to fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. In fact, Colombians now serve as advisors to 17 other countries including Afghanistan.
“If someone has life experience, others should be able to take advantage of that,” he said.