The latest ranking of the world’s deadliest cities continues a sad pattern: the overwhelming majority—43 out of 50—are in Latin America and the Caribbean, with Los Cabos in Mexico topping the list.
Many of the reasons behind this state of affairs are chronic—weak institutions; impunity; poverty; inequality and growing urbanization—all feeding and, at the same time, debilitating governments’ ability to deal with organized crime and other sources of violence.
High crime costs
With young males between 15 and 30 making up the bulk of victims and the costs of crime ascending to around 3.5% of GDP, Latin America and the Caribbean is sacrificing much of its development potential. Crime affects investment and the use of resources, with especially harmful effects on the poor. It undermines people’s faith in law enforcement and democracy and erodes the sense of security that is essential to the functioning of a dynamic society.
It is thus with a real sense of responsibility that economists and social scientists will gather this year at the annual meeting of LACEA’s America Latina Crime and Policy Network. The meeting, which will take place September 6-7 at the IDB’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., aims to better understand and help solve the excruciatingly difficult crime problem.
In preparation for the event, we are calling on interested researchers to submit papers on a range of issues, including crime and labor markets; crime and human capital formation, analysis of illegal and underground markets and the political economy of crime control, among other topics. The goal is to help foster a fruitful exchange between academic research and policy in the search for solutions.
Ever more sophisticated techniques of fighting crime have emerged in recent years, including hot-spot policing, the application of police resources to small geographic units. Micro-targeting, the focusing on tiny fragments of city blocks where crime often concentrates, seems increasingly effective. Neighborhood watches, community policing, gun-free zones, and local dispute-resolution mechanisms, are all being experimented with.
Finding the right recipe, or mix of approaches among these and other options, for each particular crime situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, however, is a gargantuan challenge. It is exacerbated by the history of weak institutions, widespread impunity, and the lack of data that make it difficult to efficiently assign crime resources. The extremely low faith in the police threads through these problems like a binding element. A 2010-2014 World Values Survey finds that of 60 countries surveyed, trust in the police is at its lowest level in Mexico (56), Trinidad and Tobago (57), Peru (58) and Argentina (59), with Pakistan in last place.
Disproportionate murder rates
Meanwhile, murder rates remain high, despite their decline in much of the developed world. Last year, in Latin America alone, 140,000 people lost their lives in criminal killings. That was more than in all the world’s wars in almost every year since the beginning of the millennium, reports The Economist. In Colombia, once one of the world’s most notorious killing grounds, the murder rate dropped last year to 24 per 100,000, its lowest in more than four decades—the product in part of a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and effective crime-fighting techniques. But it has soared in Mexico, as drug trafficking and other criminal groups murdered each other and battled security forces. Of the 10 most violent cities in the world last year, five were in Mexico, while Venezuela, according to Insight Crime, had the region’s highest national murder rate.
How is this violence perceived? What are its biggest determinants: guns, demographics, enforcement problems, labor markets? And what do evaluations show to be the most effective interventions? Paper proposals on these topics and the others previously mentioned should be submitted by April 30 for the LACEA conference. With keynote addresses by Daniel Mejia, secretary of security for Bogotá and Christopher Blattmann of the University of Chicago, we expect it to be fruitful. For more information, please click here.