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Feature 032414 Corcoran

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Flaws at the Heart of Mexico's Crime Prevention Strategy

By Patrick Corcoran

A new report from a leading think tank takes a detailed look at Mexico's security agenda under President Enrique Peña Nieto, highlighting several flaws in the strategy's design.

The report, Prevention of Crime: Where is the Evidence (pdf), from Mexico Evalua, examines the gap between the lofty rhetoric of preventing crime in Mexico and the government's methodology for actually pulling this off.

The main mechanism through which the Peña Nieto government has sought to reduce crime is the National Program for the Social Prevention of Violence and Crime, also known for its initials in Spanish as the PNPSVD. As the authors report, the PNPSVD is full of countless conceptual categorizations, diagnostic analyses, and projected goals, all of which, in theory, amount to a coherent and comprehensive strategy to clamp down on crime. However, as one starts to dig into the logic upon which the program is based, the various shortcomings in the PNPSVD's design become difficult to ignore.

For instance, of the 100 "demarcations" in Mexico that were contemplated by the PNPSVD, 57 were dubbed priority areas, which qualified them for additional federal funds for crime prevention under the program. (The demarcations refer to either cities or boroughs in Mexico City.) Forty-three were given a secondary label. However, it is not clear what distinguishes the 57 cities from the rest; the PNPSVD's methods in determining the high-priority cases are unknown to the public. While the reasons for including some cities were obvious, they were less so for others, and the failure to publish the methodology only adds to the suspicion that a lack of foresight and careful planning is hampering the government's efforts.

See also: Coverage of Security Policy

Furthermore, following a city's classification as a priority demarcation, the amount of money it receives is determined strictly based on its size and murder rate. These are clearly important factors, but they are hardly the only ones that determine risk to public security. Trends in the local economy and the state of the local educational system, to take but two examples, clearly play a role as well. Furthermore, Peña Nieto has repeatedly emphasized the need to clamp down on extortion and kidnapping, which often do not rise or fall in perfect tandem with the murder rate.

The report lands on four general "areas of opportunity," which are essentially the basic current flaws in the PNPSVD: the failure to lay out concrete objectives tied to crime prevention, the limited information about the program's diagnoses, the absence of useful indicators determining whether or not the programs are working, and a lack of information about how the program's activities are linked to the broader goal of crime prevention.

InSight Crime Analysis

The administration of former President Felipe Calderon was frequently criticized for its inattention to crime prevention, and its crude focus on punishment. This was evidenced by the skyrocketing numbers of citizens jailed on organized crime related charges, as well as the reliance on the armed forces as the first choice for pacifying an area where violence had newly emerged.

Calderon's periodic efforts to focus on prevention and the deeper causes of crime were essentially haphazard. His government launched a handful of programs and passed several laws that gave a nod to prevention, but it is not clear to what degree (if any) they influenced policy on the ground, and they did not add up to a coherent prevention strategy. The government's Todos Somos Juarez social investment program is largely viewed as a success, but it was limited to just one city. Moreover, as elsewhere, Calderon's first response was to send the army to Juarez; Todos Somos Juarez was not put into place until 2010, after the border town had suffered two years of stratospheric murder rates.

See also: Juarez After the War

Peña Nieto has wisely marked a change in direction from his predecessor. One representative quote from the president included in the report highlights this shift: "Crime is not combated merely with force. It is vital that the state launches an integrated effort to rebuild the social fabric."

Indeed it is. The PNPSVD is a step in the right direction when compared with the inattention of the Calderon administration to doing this. But the devil is in the details in any criminal analysis -- simply throwing money at a city as part of a broadly well-intentioned plan is unlikely to bring about significant improvements. As the Mexico Evalua report makes clear, many of the vital details underlying the PNPSVD appear to have been ignored, which will limit its preventive capacity.

Thus far, the Peña Nieto administration's foremost contribution regarding security policy has been more about changing the narrative than actually changing the circumstances in Mexico's violence-plagued cities. This is a significant improvement over the persistent pessimism under Calderon, but it remains a cosmetic change. For Peña Nieto's positive rhetoric to translate into something more substantial, programs like the PNPSVD need to be as detailed and comprehensive as possible.

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This commentary, "The Flaws at the Heart of Mexico's Crime Prevention Strategy," was first published in InSight Crime, on Mar. 20, 2014 and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Patrick Corcoran (corcoran25@hotmail.com) is a writer and international relations student who specializes in Mexican affairs.

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