Survey Highlights Latin America Police Corruption

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Transparency International’s latest corruption survey highlights the extent of police corruption in Latin America, drawing attention to one of the most serious impediments to tackling organized crime and insecurity in the region. 

The group’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer found that an average of 27 percent of respondents around the world had paid a bribe to one of eight listed public services in the past 12 months. Bolivia and Mexico topped the list for Latin American countries, with 36 percent and 33 percent of respondents respectively, reporting having paid a bribe. Venezuela, Peru, Paraguay and Colombia also had notable levels of bribery, with between 20 and nearly 30 percent of respondents having paid a bribe.

Many of these bribes were paid to police — in Bolivia, 52 percent of those who reported paying a bribe in the past 12 months said they had paid off police; in Venezuela, 57 percent; and in Mexico, 61 percent. Bribes to judicial officials were also common in these countries. 

The police were also considered to be among the most corrupt institutions in Mexico, Bolivia, and Venezuela, and in both Venezuela and Mexico, over half of the population surveyed believed that overall corruption in their country had increased “a lot” in the past year.

InSight Crime Analysis

Transparency International’s results regarding corruption perceptions were similar to the 2010/2011 findings. The high number of officials extorting or taking bribes from citizens is unsurprising, given the rampant police corruption present in the countries where high percentages of respondents reported giving bribes.

In Mexico, 65,000 officers were found unfit to serve in 2012, and 150 police were arrested for organized crime ties in January, while both Venezuela’s corrupt police force and judicial system have been cited by InSight Crime as factors in the country’s high homicide rate. According to one study, 85 percent of the population in four Bolivian cities do not report crimes to the police because they lack confidence in the institution.

Although bribery statistics were unavailable for Brazil in the report, it is another country with notable levels of police corruption, where 60 percent of the people distrust police. Rio de Janeiro police have been particularly noted for extorting residents.

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