“Without statistics, security
policy is made blindly”
Published by El Comercio (Ecuador), Monday, November 14, 2011
Photo by Geovanny Tipanluisa, El Comercio
Interview with Luiz Coimbra, Senior Specialist, Secretariat for Multidimensional Security, Organization of American States
El Comercio: Recently, the results from Ecuador’s 3rd National Victimization Survey were released in Quito. At national level only Guayaquil, Cuenca and Quito possess observatories on citizen security, which work with data to map the geographic zones which witness the greatest levels of violence. How difficult is it to confront these problems in areas without statistical databases?
To put it simply, without statistics security policy is made blindly. Take, for example, education. How can we build more schools if we do not have statistics which demonstrate their need? Indeed, in the realm of security, many people claim that the police forces need to spend a certain quantity of their resources on cameras, however, to what extent is this useful if we cannot measure the cameras’ effectiveness?
El Comercio: So current policies don’t work?
One of the greatest problems in the field of security policymaking is a lack of information. This is complemented by knee-jerk reactions which normally move towards wiring up more cameras or deploying more police officers. This is not a real policy-making. No one knows how criminal activities are disaggregated across sections of a city.
El Comercio: How can we trust national statistics if different institutions like public prosecutors and the police work with different numbers?
Perhaps the most important issue is to identify the source of all of these figures. Police records are very important, but so are those of public prosecutors, health agencies, courts, victimization surveys, and so forth. One piece of information strengthens another, and together they help us obtain a more complete picture of a situation facing a certain country. It does not matter if all statistics are not the same.
El Comercio: Why does the information pertaining to these observatories concern the nature of victims and alleged offenses, but not violence-generated healthcare costs and other expenditures relating to combating crime?
Luiz Coimbra: A first step has been taken, to improvement the quality of hard data. However, observatories and other entities which collect, organize, analyze and disseminate security-related information need to adopt a multifaceted perspective of the phenomena of security and violence. Indicators relating to private security, organized crime, use of firearms and government security budgets need to be created. Indeed, information relating to economic and social factors is also pertinent since these have a direct impact upon security.
El Comercio: How do the Americas fare in the employment of violence-related statistics?
LC: The majority of the countries in the Americas possess some data relating to crime and violence, but it is disjointed, and in many cases has not been transformed into pertinent and useful information to monitoring public policies. Each piece of data needs to be processed, compared and analyzed before it can be considered “information”. Ecuador is making strides in this respect, with Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca working hard in this area.
El Comercio: What does the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Observatory on Hemispheric Security say about Ecuador?
LC: Ecuador has many problems with domestic violence, organized crime, and the trafficking of alkaloids. In schools, youngsters have access to drugs, and organized criminal groups kill using firearms. The weapons used are often sold and purchased illegally. These problems are not unique to Ecuador, but are phenomena witnessed across the region.
El Comercio: In relation to organized crime, some researchers have claimed that given the extent of violence in Mexico, drug cartels are now looking towards South America to identify new exit-routes for narcotics. What are your thoughts on this?
LC: Issues relating to violence, criminality, and public security are amongst the most important for the Hemisphere’s citizens. The OAS is working diligently to unite its Member States in an organized manner so that they are better able to confront threats emanating from organized crime. It is worth noting that, over the last ten years, the majority of absolute hemispheric crime rates have remained stable but there has been a transfer of criminal activities between states.
El Comercio: What do you mean?
LC: If one country succeeds in freeing itself from the threat of organized crime, criminals move and establish themselves in another country, just like what has happened in Mexico.
El Comercio: Stopping violence outright is therefore extremely difficult?
Well, this is where the multilateral organizations, such as the OAS, play a crucial role in coordinating activities between countries. Stopping violence outright through the actions of just one country is impossible.
El Comercio: But doesn’t this mean that the OAS is weakened? Violence continues and rates are increasing…
LC: In little less than ten days, the OAS is organizing a Meeting of Ministers of Public Security in Trinidad and Tobago. However, what has the OAS done so far? Well, there are a variety of important activities such as the completion of the Inter-American Convention on Conventional Weapons and the signing of the Treaty on Registering Firearms. The Hemispheric Observatory on Security demonstrates that, in the vast majority of countries in the Hemisphere, firearms are responsible for at least 70 percent of crimes committed.
El Comercio: But doesn’t the advance of organized crime reveal the weakness of the States…
LC: Well, some States are more affected than others; particularly in cases in which organized criminal activities are greater than the State itself.
El Comercio: So much so that it can destabilize democracies?
LC: Perhaps this is the greatest threat to the States since organized crime has such an internal destabilizing capacity. Therefore, strengthening these countries internally is one manner in which to guarantee the prevalence of democracy.
El Comercio: And how can you strengthen these countries if, for instance, there are researchers whom claim that laundered money could amount to an essential pillar that supports economies?
LC: If you sustain that illegal economies which use resources originating from organized criminal activities support a country, you could similarly argue that a certain country could further consume, produce and construct using illegal monies. However, who puts an end to these activities? What happens to justice, political organization, democracy and social accountability?
About the respondent…
His experience: Luiz Coimbra is the coordinator of the Organization of American States’ Observatory on Hemispheric Security, a sociologist by trade with an MA in History.
His point of view: one country alone cannot stop the advance of organized crime. Joint efforts are essential.