Country Listing

Colombia Table of Contents



In 1988 the National Police was Colombia's principal law enforcement organization. Colombia's first national police force, consisting of an estimated 450 men, was organized in 1891 with the assistance of a commissaire of France's National Police. Over the ensuing decades, the national police acted as a Liberal counterbalance to the Conservative dominant influence within the Colombian military.

During the 1950s, the PC government moved the force from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Government to that of Ministry of National Defense. This was done both to eliminate the remaining Liberal sympathizers within the force and to bring the force under stricter government supervision. In 1962 the National Police assumed administrative and operational control over the separate police forces that had been maintained by each of the country's administrative divisions.

During the 1980s, the National Police remained directly subordinate to the minister of national defense. Officers holding military rank filled key posts within the National Police. Their uniforms and insignia of rank, however, were different from those worn by members of the country's military forces. Having passed through the police's own professional training institutions, these men were believed to have dedicated their professional careers to service with the force. Such career officers did not alternate between military and police service, as was customary with some Latin American armed forces.

In 1969 National Police personnel were estimated to total about 42,000. Recruitment plans announced during the mid-1970s projected an increase in the size of the force to some 75,000 personnel by 1980. Yet despite the increased challenges to internal security, the size of the force did not increase significantly and remained relatively constant at some 50,000 between 1974 and 1984. In 1988 the size of the National Police was estimated at approximately 55,000, of whom approximately 10 percent were civilians.

The headquarters of the National Police was located in Bogotá. The force's organization appeared to parallel the military's headquarters command; it was divided into separate functional departments, including personnel (F-1), intelligence (F-2), operations (F-3), and logistics (F-4) (see The Command Structure , this ch.). Personnel not attached to the headquarters staff were deployed in each of the country's administrative departments, in which a police commander served as the ranking police officer. Bogotá was treated as a separate police section. In addition to his own staff, the departmental police commander supervised police personnel assigned to the various districts, stations, substations, and police posts maintained throughout the department. The departmental commander was responsible to the director general for police operations and administration. The departmental commander was, however, subordinate to the departmental governor with respect to the manner in which law enforcement policies were implemented. Mayors and civil magistrates also were reported to have a say in law enforcement matters. During the late 1980s, some observers contended that the control exercised by these political officials was a corrupting influence within the National Police.

In addition to the force's primary charge to handle common crimes, its major responsibilities included narcotics interdiction, some counterinsurgency work, participation in civic action in rural areas, and riot control in the country's urban centers. Other duties included enforcement of traffic regulations, supervision of public recreation areas, provision of security at gold and emerald mines, provision of security in the transport of valuables between government banks and on the national railroads, and administration of and provision of guards for the country's prison system.

A number of special police units functioned under the overall jurisdiction of the headquarters' operations command. They included the Radio Patrol Group, the Antimugging Group, the Private Surveillance Group, the Highway Police, the Tourist Police, the Juvenile Police, the Railroad Police, and the Operational Group Against Extortion and Kidnappings. The Antinarcotics Police were important not only in the seizure of narcotics and the arrest of those involved but also in helping search out and destroy the concealed air landing strips and processing laboratories used by the narcotics traffickers. The National Police's Carabineros were a special rural police force that carried out counterinsurgency missions, frequently in conjunction with army units. Headquartered at the department and national territory capitals, the Carabineros were maintained in squadrons that were separate from those of the regular police; they wore distinctive uniforms and often traveled as mounted units. The National Police also administered and manned the country's fire departments. In support of these various police units, the National Police maintained a small air section equipped with some thirty light helicopters and one HS-748 airplane.

During the 1980s, the National Police reportedly also assumed control of the Directorate of the Judicial Police and Investigation (Dirección de la Policía Judicial y Investigación--Dijin). This law enforcement organization--commonly referred to as the Judicial Police--was formerly under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. The national Criminal Statistics Archives (Archivos de Estadística Criminal) and the Judicial Police represented the principal repositories of information required for the prosecution of criminal cases. The Criminal Statistics Archives also was transferred to the National Police and integrated as a section of the force's investigative division. Although located in Bogotá, the Judicial Police maintained its headquarters in a location separate from that of the National Police.

During the mid-1980s, the Judicial Police came to play an important role in Colombia's National Antinarcotics Campaign. Its responsibilities reportedly included carrying out criminal investigations and continuing to assist in the preparation of court cases against narcotics traffickers. Members of the Judicial Police also were believed to be assigned to duty with various governmental bodies that had responsibilities related to law enforcement and the administration of justice, including the Office of the Attorney General and the federal government's Administrative Security Department (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad--DAS).

The National Police maintained its own professional education system, separate from that of the military forces and administered by the police's instructional division. The two principal professional schools for members of the National Police were the General Santander Police Cadet School and the Jiménez de Quesada Noncommissioned Officers School, both located in Bogotá. Completion of the cadet school's rigorous two-year program was required of all recruits who aspired to obtain a commission in the National Police. Completion of additional training was required for promotions. Noncommissioned officers were required to complete a five-month course for each advancement in rank from corporal to sergeant major. The National Police also operated seven smaller police schools in various locations throughout the country. These schools offered a five-month basic training course for recruits as well as in-service training; coursework included subjects as diverse as Colombian history and riot control. Members of the Carabineros were required to undergo a special three-month training program at the National School of Carabineros, also located in the national capital. During the mid-1970s, this specialized instruction included courses in horsemanship, basic veterinary medicine, and civic action.

In addition to the National Police, two other organizations-- the DAS and the Customs Service (Servicio de Aduana)--had important law enforcement responsibilities. The DAS was the principal organization responsible for enforcement of laws relating to national security. This organization had a national role comparable to that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States. The formal responsibilities under the DAS's mandate included investigating crimes against the internal security of the state, fraud against the state and its financial institutions, breaches of the public faith, and crimes affecting individual liberty and human rights. The DAS also was responsible for screening and maintaining records on foreigners who entered the nation and for enforcing immigration laws. To carry out its mission, the DAS had both investigative and intelligence-gathering responsibilities.

Like the minister of national defense, the chief of the DAS reported directly to the president of the republic. In 1988 General Miguel Alfredo Maza Márquez served as chief of the DAS. Among the administrative units reporting to the DAS chief were the heads of the Office of Evaluation, the Office of Analysis and Programming, and the Rural Security Service. During the mid-1970s, the DAS was believed to have some 3,000 plainclothes personnel.

In comparison with the military and the National Police, the professional career system under the DAS was considered to be relatively weak, a factor that was thought to have contributed to the high attrition rate of DAS personnel during the late 1970s. The DAS did, however, operate its own training schools--one in Bogotá and the other in Boyacá. The DAS coordinated its domestic operations with the ministries of government, foreign affairs, justice, and national defense.

Data as of December 1988

Country Listing

Colombia Table of Contents