Colombia’s national police director, who last week was ordered to Medellin to combat rising crime and violence, admitted Monday that the country’s second largest city is in a state of “crisis.”
“This is a crisis, we must confront and fight these criminal organizations,” the director of Colombia’s National Police, Jose Roberto Leon, told newspaper El Tiempo Monday.
In the first two months of 2013, Medellin has experienced an 18.9% increase in homicides as compared to the same period last year according to the local coroner’s office. The city’s police department failed to release robbery statistics to this website, despite several requests.
Medellin homicides 2012 vs 2013
Source: Medellin Coroner’s Office
Since arriving to Medellin on March 18, the commander said his men have captured 419 alleged criminals, only 49 of which had warrants. Additionally, police seized over 1,800 knives and 28 firearms.
Authorities have also captured some key players in regional violence, drug trafficking and extortion. Leon said his men captured alias “Carlos Presente” or “Cien” – the alleged leader of neo-paramilitary group “Los Urabeños” in Bajo Cauca. They also captured alleged “Oficina de Envigado” leader Freiner Ramirez Garcia alias “Carlos Pesebre,” who reportedly controlled 500 criminals in the Comuna 7, 12 and 13 sectors of Medellin.
Los Urabeños – a neo-paramilitary group based in the northwestern Uraba region of Colombia – have been slowly making incursions into some of Medellin’s most strategic and violent sectors like the Comuna 8 and 13 and have encouraged local gangs known as “combos” or “super combos” to align with them. The city’s combos have traditionally been controlled by the Oficina de Envigado, a former assassination branch of Pablo Escobar‘s Medellin Cartel that continued to command the city’s underworld after the death of the notorious drug kingpin.
In the interview with El Tiempo, Police Commander Leon denied that Los Urabeños have fully entered the city.
“The capture of alias ‘Cien’ [leader of Los Urabeños in Bajo Cauca who was captured last Thursday] indicates that they [Los Urabeños] are funding a war between gangs in the city, especially with the groups [belonging to] ‘Carlos Pesebre’. But they have not entered [Medellin] definitively and we won’t permit this.”
In relation to combating the Oficina, Leon stated, “The Oficina is very decimated, I would say about 90 percent. Today there is no leader – and we won’t allow one – like Pablo Escobar or alias ‘Don Berna,’ that, admittedly, controlled the city [at the time]. In many eras the homicide statistics were very low, simply because there was a homogony within a criminal organization that impeded … This would be one solution, but it is neither ethical nor responsible on our part. This is a crisis, we must confront and fight these criminal organizations.”
FACT SHEET: Medellin violence statistics
Some Medellin residents view the police commander’s assignment in the city as cosmetic and doubt the lasting effects the operation will bring to the city’s overall security situation.
One local posted on television station Caracol’s website that, “Now they will take their job seriously, having the generals here, but when they are not here they relax and they are not giving attention to the city.”
“This is why the director [police commander] came, the boss of them and they better give a good impression that yes they are working,” said a second Medellin resident.
Medellin’s Police Chief Jose Angel Mendoza insists that the police have always been working to improve the security situation, however, with the arrival of his superior, the process has accelerated.
“I insist, it’s not that we didn’t work, it’s only that the Director of Police arrived with a group that accelerated some processes that were already in the works, and this is positive because he directs the mechanisms and strategies to utilize for reducing the violence in the city,” said Mendoza.
In spite of alerts and statistics, and until the intervention of national authorities, Medellin mayor Anibal Gaviria long insisted his city was not suffering security issues.
The national police commander said he will remain in Colombia’s second largest city until December, at which time 1,000 new officers will be deployed in the city.