Colombia Announces Body Cameras, Uniform Changes for Police in Reform Effort

The Colombian government announced Monday that at least 11,000 officers who work on neighborhood patrols will be wearing body cameras in an effort to reform the police, the Associated Press reported.

The nation's police will also be switching from their traditional green uniforms to a navy blue with the officer's license number and a QR code that can be used by civilians to identify officers.

Colombian President Ivan Duque also announced that a human rights directorate will be created and will report to the nation's police chief and led by a retired colonel.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Colombian Police Reform
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - MAY 10: Colombian president Ivan Duque speaks to the press before a meeting with members of the National Strike Committee at Casa de Nariño Government Palace on May 10, 2021 in Bogota, Colombia. Duque announced on Monday different measures the nation's police force would take to reform their organization. Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

The new department will gather complaints from citizens and produce two reports each year on human rights issues, Duque said.

In addition, officers and junior officers will be obliged to take a new course on human rights, and the police will toughen sanctions against those who commit abuses. The nation's mobile riot squad -- which was implicated in many of the violent actions against protesters during May's demonstrations -- will also have to undergo a new course on human rights.

The reforms come as human rights groups criticize Colombia's police for using excessive force during large protests that began on April 28 and lasted until mid June.

According to Human Rights Watch, credible evidence exists linking police officers to the deaths of 25 demonstrators who were shot with firearms or killed with crowd control devices like tear gas canisters. In a report issued in June, the organization also pointed out that at least one protester was beaten to death by police, and recommended that the government place the police under the Interior Ministry to increase civilian oversight.

Currently, Colombia's police is overseen by the Defense Ministry and officers who commit crimes on duty are often judged in military tribunals. The reforms announced by Duque are not as far reaching as those proposed by Human Rights Watch and other international organizations like the Inter American Commission for Human Rights. But the president said they are part of a "wholesome effort" to improve policing.

During Colombia's armed conflict, police were often deployed to fight drug traffickers and rebel groups and sometimes participated in joint operations with the army. Experts believe that this kind of training has led them to be more violent towards protesters, who have sometimes attacked police with stones and homemade bombs.

Colombian Police Reform
National Police attend a ceremony showing their new uniforms at Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, July 19, 2021. The uniforms changed from green to blue, and an arm patch features a QR code that allows anyone who scans it to see the officer's name, rank and badge number. Ivan Valencia/Associated Press