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Citizen Security in Latin America

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Citizen Security in Latin America

Crime and victimization rates are growing in Latin America; however, 2017 data demonstrates some signs of improvement. One of the top concerns of people in Mexico, Central America, and South America is criminal violence, which will continue to rise unless preventative measures are taken. The approach and priorities of public security from the traditional law and order perspective have changed over the last two decades to include a more people-centered approach of safety and security. This citizen security approach comprises of:

  • Data-driven policing;
  • Smarter approaches to criminal justice;
  • Alternatives to incarceration; and
  • Investments in primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.

This publication discusses the theory and practice of citizen security. Citizen security started in the 1990s and 2000s primarily by municipal leaders, academics, and private actors. While its definition is widely debated, Muggah and Aguirre Tobón provide its general interpretation to be "policies and programs that prioritize safety, security and the rights of residents within a framework of state responsibility and citizen engagement ... It includes a range of ideas and practices designed to prevent and reduce violence, promote public security and access to justice, strengthen social cohesion and reinforce the mutual rights and obligations of states and citizens." This concept spread to and began being adopted by Latin American non-governmental organizations and governments but is under-theorized by academics.

Spain, Germany, Canada, Norway, the United States, and the European Union are some of the bilateral donors that support citizen security projects in Latin America, along with the World Bank, CAF, UNDP, UNOCD, and the OAS as key partners. 

The publication states that there is a challenge in Latin America for standardized and reliable statistics. However, publicly available data demonstrates that Latin America (8% of the globe's population) has the world's highest rates of homicide (33% of the world's murders). The authors worry that the available figures are under-reported.

The authors use data compiled by various sources, including the Igarapé Intitute's Homicide Monitor and the Citizen Security Dashboard, academic research, UNCTS, and UNODC, to show their findings on crime and citizen security. They conclude that while the region is affected by high criminal violence rates, there are Latin American cities, states and countries making positive strides towards reducing these rates.

The publication concludes with some of the following improvements to crime prevention approaches:

  • Define a clear vision, set of priorities and targets
  • Invest in preventive measures
  • Emphasize specific types of employment opportunities for high-risk groups
  • Reinforce social cohesion and collective efficacy in communities
  • Enhance citizen participation in the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of interventions
Institution:Igarapé Institute
Author:Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre Tobón

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