(InsightCrime.org) Colombia’s National Police has carried out the biggest purge of its ranks in over 20 years, but it will have to do much more to rebuild the credibility of an institution tarnished by scandal and corruption.
In just 80 days, the Colombian police has removed 1,427 officials from its 180,000 strong ranks. The head of the police, General Jorge Hernando Nieto, said in a press conference that 373 police officers had been dismissed as a result of corruption cases ranging from drug distribution to bribery, while others were removed due to incompetence, because they resigned, or to undergo performance assessments, among other reasons, reported El Colombiano.
According to General Nieto, the purge is part of a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption that has also seen 254 police officers arrested over the course of 2016, reported Caracol Radio. A further 600 officials could also be removed in the coming months, the general added.
Colombia’s police has not seen a purge this large since 1995, when 11,000 officers were dismissed from a force of 80,000.
As Colombia prepares for the potential demobilization of its main guerrilla groups after decades of war, transforming the National Police into an effective and reliable force will be an essential part of the country’s transition into post-conflict. However, it is unlikely that the current cleansing process alone will achieve this goal.
The discovery of a prostitution ring within the police force — which led to the recent resignation of Nieto’s predecessor General Rodolfo Palomino — has seen public trust in the police hit rock bottom. During a recent survey, 59 percent of people questioned had a negative view of the National Police compared to 38 percent last year. Since assuming his position, General Nieto has made reforming the police’s image a key priority.
But it is the police’s direct involvement in organized crime that will pose the biggest problem in a post-conflict scenario. In recent months, numerous police officers have been found to be working for drug trafficking, illegal mining and contraband smuggling gangs across the country.
According to the director of the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos – CERAC) Jorge Restrepo, the internal purge is a positive step, but the police force has much further to go if it is to recover public confidence and be in a position to confront Colombia’s post-conflict challenges.
“It will take time to recover public trust,” Restrepo told El Colombiano. “[This] was lost not because of Palomino’s scandals, but due to his lack of leadership and management, as well as the inefficiency of counterintelligence.”