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Safety in Bogotá, greater prevention to avoid strong-arming

Security is one of the main needs, priorities, and demands of the people in Colombia. After the Political Constitution of 1991, the country focused its efforts in developing the concept of citizen security and not national security, prevalent during the cold war. This fundamental change is now focused on the individual citizens, their families, and social environments as well as the conditions to enable improving the quality of life.

This approach complies with what the United Nations has been endorsing as the concept of “human security” and successfully implemented in countries such as Canada or Denmark, concentrating the efforts of the government on not making police forces accountable but on making citizens feel safe as a whole.

The new concept reconsiders the imaginary concept that the police force is the only entity directly involved with security, as opposed to the new concept that for a person to feel safe, they should have the following areas solved:

  • Economy
  • Health
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Environment
  • A safe community
  • Access to justice

Even under the “human security” concept, one of the indicators which still is essential and continues to rate cities as more secure or insecure are “homicide rates.” The importance of this measurement lies that in this crime is the violation of all human rights without any possibility of recovery or damage repair.

Expectations for the new Office of Secretary of Security

One of the main actions of the “Bogotá Mejor para todos” (Bogotá better for all”) administration was create an Office of the Secretary of Security as a new institution in charge of providing support to the police force, besides investing in security programs and projects, human resources, infrastructure and surveillance technologies, among others. The former entity had been plagued with corruption scandals in the last ten years.

Creating this Office produced expectancies and hopes to the citizens, the Municipal Council, and other area experts but after two years of operation, the former entity has not been completely shut down and still has a budget of close to Col $9,000 million as of December of last year.

The Office of the Mayor has emphasized on purchasing more security cameras for the city and is looking to add 4,000 cameras around Bogotá, in contrast with other cities in the world which have already carried out these types of actions.

For instance, Madrid has 40,000 cameras and managed to structure public and private cameras as a whole. The issue now is that only 3% of the robberies and 8% of the murders are solved by using surveillance cameras and also having fast (almost real-time) reaction times to crime events.

Also, as claimed by Daniel Mejía, the Bogotá Secretary of Security, the city has a deficit of approximately 3,000 police officers, springing doubts over the comprehensive security plans in place.

Despite the prior, Bogotá closed 2017, with the lower murder rate in the last 38 years by having only 14 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants, while Caracas (Venezuela) had 70 in the same time frame.

The thing is that the rate of Bogotá coincides with the reduction in the country, which is currently at 24 for every 100,000 inhabitants, therefore we could surmise that the reduction would be a national trend, although greater studies are necessary in order to argument such scenario.

Cellphone robbery persists

With this scenario, the question is what are the challenges for the city if the figures around the world are also diminishing?  Figures of the National Police for the end of 2017 show a reduction in murders, therefore the challenges are cohabitation and uncivilized behaviors which are occurring among families, communities and acquaintances.

Cellphone robbery is the main cause of unsafe perception in people according to a recent survey in Bogotá, which highlights that 32% of the surveyed have been direct victims of this kind of theft robbery. Between January 1st and December 31st of 2017, there were 28,881 reports of cellphone robbery, a 290% increase with respect to the same period in 2016.

These figures are alarming if we take into consideration that only 52% of the people actually report this type of crime. Therefore with this scenario only, 79 people a day would be the victim of this time of felony.

Cell phone theft is an example, if not the best of how hard arm politics should couple with comprehensive measures; as seizing stolen cellphones, forceful entry to stolen cellphone warehouses and an increase in arrests for criminals devoted to stealing cell phones on the streets has not been enough to stop this criminal practice.

The phenomenon requires analyzing, for instance why most robberies are between Thursday and Friday and the most used weapons are knives with 30% of the cases followed by the use of firearms with 21%.

Analyzing these variables shows that hard-line policies are not enough, as they do well in the media, it really needs to add other actions including research, disarming campaigns, and seizing campaigns, but above all awareness campaigns leading to change the social custom of buying stolen goods as this practice fuels the market, as buyers request more cellphones and thieves need to stock the market with stolen goods.

Looking at the phenomenon from an economic perspective, an August 2017 Universidad Central report says that criminal networks work with countries with seasonal markets. In other words, cellphones stolen in Bogotá are later sold in cities such as Lima, Quito, Buenos Aires o La Paz. Only in Colombia, every delinquent band devoted to this type of crime can reach an income of more than Col $ 20 million a day.

A very profitable business

Moreover, while a stolen cell phone has an average market value of approximately Col $600,000, the same phone may be sold in parts in other countries (being original parts) for as high as Col $ 4,500,000 for each phone, i.e. a net profit of 750%.

Challenges for the city

In face of this scenario, the challenge for Bogotá is to think of cultural, social, traditional and upbringing conditions which generate fear dynamics which have been treated with soft measures and do not represent real solutions for the phenomenon.

In simple words, the efforts to attack small delinquency networks links, such as arresting cell phone robbers but not go after the whole delinquent structure, creates ruptures in the cell phone stolen market or plans with phone operators with awareness and citizen education programs.

But the challenges do not end here, as there are other issues such as personal theft which increased between 2016 and 2017 in 156%; these are additional data from cellphone theft, which has been independently reported since 2007. Another problem is bodily harm which also increased during the same time period by 109%.

Finally, domestic violence is one of the main challenges as the increase in 2017 reached 128%, with 5,571 cases, although as other types of aforementioned crimes, not all cases are reported.

Taking into account the previous, it is time to think that Bogotá deserves a comprehensive cohabitation and security public policy, using international models or creating models that do not refer to practices of the 80s or 90s. 

In doing so, Bogotá would benefit and the local government would comply with the National Policy on Security and Cohabitation, which has been defined since 2011, as “universal protection of citizens in face of crimes and misdemeanors which affect their dignity, personal safety, and assets.”


Consejo Editorial