1 COMMENT

  1. The change in Bogota in a relatively short period of time is striking. There is indeed hope. Thanks for pointing to the article.

    • I recall the color coded zone map of Bogota that was used by the State Department and foreign companies in the 80s and 90s. The vast majority of the city was “red”, meaning do not go there under any circumstances. Some of it was in orange, which meant you could go in daylight with security. Only a small sliver was yellow and none green!

  2. I’m not a big fan of your piece Quico.

    For example, you say “Guerrero clamped down on the risk factors in tandem, working with the Colombian military to restrict the availability of handguns in Cali and restricting alcohol sales on weekends. Within a year, the murder rate had fallen from 126 to 100 per 100,000. Still very high, but substantially better.”

    You make it sound as if tough policing had nothing to do with it. In fact, all through your piece there is scant mention of law enforcement. It’s all very touchy-feely, as if street lights and a ban on gun sales alone was enough to solve the problem. You even have a whopper: “all it takes is a streetlight.”

    You only give scant mention of the fact that “Such interventions, alongside more traditional measures like creating specialised police units and training prosecuting magistrates modeled on Sicilian anti-mafia police have led to the dismantling of 47 criminal gangs over the past three years.” You make it sound as though stree lights (!) and law enforcement were co-equals. You don’t even mention Plan Colombia and its effect on violence.

    To me, this sounds like something readers of The Guardian are comfortable with – with just enough love, we can convince criminals to behave like normal people. I think that does Guerrero a disservice.

    While I don’t dispute the fact that smart policies on crime can do wonders, it’s not just about data, maps, streetlights and social programs for the youth. I’m sure there was a lot of targeted law enforcement involved – why else would you need the maps and the data, if not to know where to put your law enforecement resources?

    But that’s probably somehting the readers of The Guardian don’t want to hear about.

      • “…I’m sure there was a lot of targeted law enforcement involved – why else would you need the maps and the data, if not to know where to put your law enforecement resources? ”

        Wasn’t something like that, the “targeted law enforcement”, used in Brazil too? I can’t remember the exact details, but I remember a couple of articles telling how they lowered the crime rates in some big cities there by focusing the enforcer’s work on some dangerous zones.

      • Sure. I think that’s fair criticism. I’m mostly going to plead 800-word-limit.

        The point is that Guerrero was working with a *very* limited toolbox. A mayor’s toolbox. He couldn’t wage war on FARC. He couldn’t remake the penal code. He didn’t even manage to get Bogota to allow him to ban porte de armas outright, which he wanted to do.

        Yet even with such a limited arsenal, there’s evidence that what Cali and Bogotá did had an effect on violence rates over-and-above the general fall in homicide rates all over Colombia. And you can measure that! http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10703790

      • Gotta agree that helping the thugs see what they are doing with some well placed streetlamps is not going to help anyone. You need a stronger disincentive, but you don’t need Rambo.

        To me the outstanding paragraphs come just before we turn to streetlamps:


        “The root of this is in the ‘harmless gang’: groups of friends hanging out in the neighbourhood, who have aspirations and girlfriends but don’t have a source of money.” It’s easy, he says, for established criminal gangs to recruit footsoldiers among them, promising quick cash for those who’ll push drugs or help run extortion rackets.
        “There’s a great big target for social intervention there,” he says. “We’re working with those young people to ensure they have an income before they go professional and become murderers.”
        “But to do that,” he says, “you need concentrated social investment in the places where they live.”

        Normal employment is ideal, but just keeping kids busy off the streets with other activities is enough to bring the crime rate down. Just pay them to go shoot some pool instead of each other.

        • Gotta agree that helping the thugs see what they are doing with some well placed streetlamps is not going to help anyone.

          Well but how the hell do you really know that? The data show what the data show, “it doesn’t conform to my pre-existing belief” isn’t a very good counterargument.

          • It has been shown that street lamps reduce crime (http://cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e1208-StreetLighting.pdf) but you need a cop or at least a good neighbourhood watch program if that is going to really help (page 5):


            Things are rarely as simple as they first appear. Professor Ken
            Pease, a crime-prevention expert, has explained how improved
            lighting can have a variety of different effects on crime. In
            particular, not only can it sometimes increase crime, but it can
            also affect not just nighttime crime, but daylight crime as well.

            Otherwise you’re right, I just wanted to bring attention to those paragraphs that seemed to me were being ignored and that come across as a key point, particularly ” to ensure they have an income before they go professional and become murderers.” That’s the target. Social intervention is the solution (which, frankly, borders on chavista talk, right? I mean, what exactly is “social intervention”, street lamps?)

            He says concretely that the important point is to throw money at the employment problem, but he calls the method he uses to do that social intervention, which to me sounds like “build a ymca” but perhaps he means a range of options to create an environment that encourages economic growth and participation of youth in that growth.

          • Have you controlled, by the way, for reduced unemployment and other shifts that might explain the drop in crime in Colombia?

            Anyway, I stand by “social intervention” sounding (smelling?) funny – a catch-all for spending money to appease the angry masses, that is a significant ingredient in chavismo, right? Not that it doesn’t work, just that it sounds populist.

            Crime-prevention is a fascinating subject, there are some predictable regularities, but they are still interesting, for instance the importance of the date and time of day:
            http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/19/nyregion/19murder.html
            So, perhaps heading to the pool hall on saturday night for a beer should be a no-no. Better perhaps to play massive multiplayer online videogames in your air-conditioned home. Maduro should be distributing xboxes and AC units for Christmas.

            Another interesting piece: in the NYC on Cyrus Vance Jr recently: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/magazine/cyrus-vance-jrs-moneyball-approach-to-crime.html
            His policy is something like micro-management of criminal activity. Is keeping tabs on where you stick your bubble gum lest they cane you also “social intervention”?

            Finally, I have to say that ones opinion on some of these issues really depends very much on who one is rooting for. Take for instance the violent demonstrations in the USA of late, it’s ok for police in that country to club demonstrators like baby seals right? And all this monitoring with CCDs, and street lamps everywhere so you can’t even sleep at night, CCD cameras were headed for Venezuela en masse last I heard, good stuff, right? Just food for thought…

    • “You make it sound as if tough policing had nothing to do with it. In fact, all through your piece there is scant mention of law enforcement. It’s all very touchy-feely, as if street lights and a ban on gun sales alone was enough to solve the problem. You even have a whopper: “all it takes is a streetlight.””

      I feel like pulling in Bratton, Annie-Hall style to wag his finger at you. “I didn’t mean all it takes is to fix the window! You know nothing of my work.”

      OTOH, some would say that restricting alcohol sales qualifies as tough policing. Ask any guachimán near a licorería. 😀

  3. An analysis consisting of common sense and logic, separating the problem in parts to attack each symptom and cause?

    Damn, sounds like something totally alien here in Venezuela…

    Thanks for pointing the article, man, it’s not like we have to bring Shockwave from Transformers here to think how to start attacking this problem.

  4. I’ve never seen the streets in Maracaibo as dark as they are now. It’s daunting to be out anywhere – even while driving. I’d bet good money that a more robust public lighting system would definitely make a positive impact.

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