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Regional Police Structure


A police station in Villa Tunari, the Chapare
Courtesy Kevin Healy

The National Police Corps was a centralized force, organized on a territorial basis. Each department had a police district subdivided into zones. Field elements of the National Police and National Guard were stationed in all sectors of the country and reported directly to the office of the director general in La Paz. Each department generally had one brigade (brigada) of carabineers, consisting of an urban and a rural force. Subordinate headquarters (also known as brigades), stationed in the capital of each of the nine departments, coordinated and supervised operations. Each brigade was divided into an urban command and a rural command. The urban command, at the departmental capital, operated the police stations and local jails and was also divided into patrol and criminal investigation sections.

Most corps personnel and units within a department were considered--regardless of their size, composition, mission, or station--to be part of the brigade in the area they served and were members of a single departmental unit. An exception was the city of La Paz, where two separate regiments of carabineers were kept under the direct control of the director general and the president. Other exceptions to the integral brigade organization were made in sections of the country where dependence on the regular departmental brigade forces was not deemed advisable or feasible. Two such areas--San Ignacio de Velasco in Santa Cruz Department and Tupiza in Potosí Department--had independent carabineer detachments in addition to the department brigades.

Certain departmental brigade personnel of the rural command were assigned to a series of frontier posts scattered at twenty-seven critical points along the borders and at river and lake ports of entry. They included Customs Police integral to the corps, as well as uniformed carabineers concerned with combating smuggling and other forms of illegal border crossing. The carabineers were also heavily involved in civic action in the more remote and less populated regions of the country. In an effort to improve its public relations, the police created the Department of Social Communication (Departamento de Comunicación Social) in the early 1980s.

Corps personnel were classified in three distinct groups: uniformed personnel (carabineers); technical and auxiliary personnel; and civilian police investigators and identification personnel. Ranks of uniformed personnel generally corresponded to those of the army. There were four general classifications--jefes (field officers), oficiales (company officers), clases (NCOs), and privates (tropas)--with a graded system of rank within each class. Uniformed personnel were promoted on the basis of annual examinations given when they attained the required time in grade, which was usually four years for all except captains and sergeants, who must spend five years in grade before becoming eligible for promotion. Classification of civilians was based on a nonmilitary two-category system composed of superiors (funcionarios superiores) and subalterns (funcionarios subalternos).

In the mid-1980s, approximately 80 percent of the National Police Corps were uniformed carabineers. The remaining 20 percent were civilian police investigators involved in crime detection, forensic science, administration, or logistics. Approximately half of the total uniformed personnel and 60 percent of the nonuniformed personnel of the police force were stationed in La Paz. The La Paz Departmental Police also had an Explosives Brigade (Brigada de Explosivos), which was subordinate to the Fire Corps. The 600-member Traffic Police administered traffic law. Only officers of this force normally carried sidearms. All motorcycle patrolmen were commissioned officers. The Feminine Police Brigade (Brigada Policial Femenina) served in an auxiliary or support capacity to the operational units. In addition to directing traffic, members of this brigade helped in police matters involving children and women.

All municipalities were entitled to raise local police forces to enforce local ordinances. Only La Paz, however, had established such a force, called the La Paz Municipal Police (Policía Municipal de La Paz). In the mid-1980s, this force numbered about 400 uniformed and 100 nonuniformed members, none of whom was armed. Their functions were limited to enforcing parking regulations and local bylaws. Most of the city of La Paz was under the jurisdiction of Police District No. 2, which consisted of five squadrons. Police District No. 3 was responsible for the sprawling shantytowns above the city known generally as El Alto. Police Regiment No. 4 exercised jurisdiction over the area south of La Paz.

Data as of December 1989

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