#18 cities
Salomé Flores / Javier Hernández

Understanding Crime

Crime in Mexico City is a multi-layered problem. We asked two experts to break down the figures and cut through the complexities.

Mexico City is home to 8.5 million people, and the population of the greater metropolitan area exceeds 20 million. Between 2012 and 2014, city inhabitants listed their top five concerns as insecurity, unemployment, corruption, rising prices, and drug trafficking.

Given that more than half of Mexico's population named insecurity as their number one concern, it is instructive to explore what is behind this concern and how it affects people's daily lives. The National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security (ENVIPE) is the most accurate source of data on perception of and experience with crime for the last five years.

According to this annual survey, the level of insecurity people report experiencing varies considerably for different public and private spaces. ATMs, public transport, streets and banks are the public spaces in which people feel most insecure, followed by parks, markets and shopping malls, as these present more opportunities for becoming a victim of common crimes such as theft and robbery, the most frequent crimes in Mexico City. And even though the fear of crime is focused on public spaces, at least a quarter of the people living in Mexico City feels insecure in the workplace, at school or even at home.

…estimated household spending on preventive measures totalled over (…) 4.8 billion dollars.

Clearly some areas provide a greater number of opportunities for offenders to attack either persons or objects without any state intervention in the form of suitable force. These include areas in which gangs or other violent groups are present where gunshots and even homicides may occur, creating an environment of incivility and antisocial behaviour, which only further increases the likelihood of common crimes and of violent crimes as well.

People have responded to this constant feeling of insecurity by changing their behaviour patterns in hopes of avoiding becoming the victim of a crime. In 2014, ENVIPE found that 76.1% of respondents had stopped wearing jewellery, 73.7% did not allow their kids to go out, 53.8% mentioned they no longer carried cash, 51.3% avoided going out at night, and 45.9% had stopped carrying bank cards.

These changes in behaviour have also had an economic impact, and in 2014 estimated household spending on preventive measures totalled over 63.6 billion pesos (over 4.8 billion dollars). This category includes measures such as installing more secure locks, doors and windows, fencing in property, and buying a watchdog. Looking beyond a sense of insecurity, the overall economic impact of crime in Mexico City was 213.1 billion pesos (16.7 billion US dollars) in 2014. This includes the costs of preventive measures, direct economic losses suffered by victims, and even health care spending for injuries caused by violent crime.

The Mexico City government's efforts to prevent crimes are supported by 32,464 police officers (…)

A closer look at people's perception of insecurity also reveals that it increases as geographical area increases. People report feeling relatively safe in their immediate environment, but assess the overall situation in the city more dangerous. In 2014, ENVIPE estimated that 78.5% felt insecure when talking about Mexico City as a whole, but the percentage went down to 65.9%, when people were asked about the situation at their municipality, and the sense of insecurity decreased even more when neighbourhoods were assessed with only 48.5% reported feeling unsafe.

Over 47% of Mexico City’s households were directly affected by crime in 2014. This corresponds to around 2,400,000 victims associated with over 4,000,000 crimes. Unfortunately, 91.6% of these crimes were not reported to the police. In 78.4 % of these cases, people attributed not reporting a crime because they feared being extorted by the authorities, did not trust them, or perceived them as hostile. Others considered it a waste of time, or did not want to deal with all the difficult and time-consuming bureaucratic paperwork involved.

The Mexico City government's efforts to prevent crimes are supported by 32,464 police officers whose main function is to guarantee the physical integrity of the population and ensure the safety of their property, as well as to maintain public order in Mexico City. But as the 91% of unreported crimes shows, this is a complex task at which the police often fails.

This reality is forcing the authorities to find innovative strategies for preventing and controlling crime, moving from traditional incident-driven approaches to more situational, problem-oriented strategies in which understanding the causalities are key to identifying possible alternative interventions and responses for reducing crime in the city.

New businesses have now sprung up, changing the face of the area.

One of the primary strategies employed by the police forces in Mexico City for increasing and reinforcing public trust in security institutions is neighbourhood police. A total of 2,400 policemen serve on these local forces, riding bicycles around the areas they police with the mission of preventing robbery and burglary. They act in small geographic areas under clear operative policies and evaluation and control systems. The latter are of great importance, as many people harbour a fear of police, one of the principal reasons crimes continue to go unreported.

Data-mining using data from a network of security cameras, street panic buttons, emergency calls and official reports has helped geo-reference crimes and re-orient the policing response system by identifying hot spots, crime trends, and risk factors, along with community strengths, like neighbourhood watch groups, community-based organizations working on prevention, health care providers, emergency response services, and any other element that can help to design tailored intervention strategies.

Mexico City has also adopted situational crime prevention as a key approach to recovering public spaces and discouraging the most common reoccurring crimes. In the Alameda Central historic district, a popular park at the centre of the city used to be surrounded street vendors and was a well-known hang-out for local gangs. Improvement measures like planting trees and putting up street lamps and benches made the area easier to police, so local gangs have stopped meeting in the park. New businesses have now sprung up, changing the face of the area.

Although Mexico City continues to improve its public perception of security, there is still a long way to go before the violence situation improves. Specific topics such as violence against women and the mistreatment of children, as well as the development of peripheral areas with high rates of poverty, remain the main challenges the city will need to overcome in the next years to really effectively and sustainably decrease the crime rate.

Photo: “m-23” by wealldo
2011 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

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