Colombia’s Top Cop Retires, Leaving Successor to Deal with Emerging Gangs

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Colombia’s celebrated national police chief General Oscar Naranjo has retired, leaving his successor to grapple with challenges like emerging criminal gangs known as BACRIMs, and illegal mining.

Naranjo (pictured), one of the most respected police chiefs in Colombian history, formally stepped down from his post on June 12. His retirement, announced in April, was presented as being due to the need to make way for younger officers to rise up through the police ranks. However, President Juan Manuel Santos has also said that the retirement was due to the police chief’s fatigue after five years on the job.

Naranjo is succeeded by General Jose Roberto Leon Riaño, former head of the National Police’s citizen security program. During Leon’s time in this role, he helped to create the 2010 Plan Cuadrantes, which aimed to eliminate crime by dividing urban areas into sectors manned by individual police bases dedicated to block-by-block enforcement. Police in Bogota have credited Plan Cuadrantes with helping to reducing crime in the capital.

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Naranjo is known for his many successes as police chief, including his efforts to bring more police intelligence work to the fight against drug trafficking. His time in office saw the fall of many Colombian drug lords, including Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” who surrendered to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in May.

However, Naranjo also faced a number of disappointments during his administration, including his failure to arrest powerful drug trafficker Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco,” despite recent rumors that Loco Barrera was negotiating with US authorities. Naranjo has not been completely free of accusations of misconduct. He has been connected to leaks about Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) negotiations with top drug traffickers, and has been accused of having an overly friendly relationship with former police colonel and drug trafficker Danilo Gonzalez.

Leon will face serious challenges. In 2011 Naranjo warned that emerging criminal gangs known by the government as BACRIMs, which grew out of the old paramilitary armies, were the greatest threat to Colombian security. More recently, Naranjo has described illegal mining as the biggest challenge for Leon, as illegal gold mines fund criminal groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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