Colombia Police Dismantle 100s of Gangs in 2012

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Colombian police broke up over 700 criminal gangs over the last year, highlighting the increasingly fragmented criminal landscape in Colombia, with smaller, localized operations more focused on domestic sources of criminal revenues.

Presenting a statistical breakdown of his first year in office, police chief Jose Roberto Leon Riaño announced police had dismantled a total of 786 criminal gangs, captured 242 drug traffickers and extradited 192 more, dismantled 40 trafficking networks, and carried out 243 operations targeting the financial infrastructures of criminal groups, reported Vanguardia.

In operations targeting street level drug dealing — microtrafficking — police seized 99,184 kilos of cocaine, 132,182 tablets of synthetic drugs and 291,220 kilos of marijuana. In actions taken against kidnapping and extortion, they arrested 2,038 people and solved 1,041 cases.

InSight Crime Analysis

The astonishingly high number of gangs dismantled by police reflects broader changes in the Colombian underworld. There are few countries that can boast the sort of success Colombia has had in dismantling large scale drug trafficking operations. However, that success has come at a price.

The atomization of hierarchical structures such as the Medellin Cartel or the paramilitary army of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia fuelled an explosion in smaller criminal groups and left those already in existence — such as the street gangs contracted by drug cartels — to operate without the revenues provided and order imposed by larger, more powerful organizations.

Pressure on international drug trafficking also led to groups turning inwards in search of profits, with activities such as micro-trafficking, extortion and kidnapping becoming more important sources of income.

The challenge of confronting domestic crime was underscored by the murder of a DEA agent the same day as the police statement. Whereas in the past, such a killing would have roused suspicions of the involvement of drug cartels, in this case it appears the agent was a victim of a “paseo millonario” (millionaire’s walk). When the agent took a taxi, the driver stopped to allow criminal associates in, who would normally have escorted their victim to a cash machine to clear out his account. However, for as yet unknown reasons, the assault went wrong and the agent was stabbed.

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