Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control


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Some theorists contend that specific areas within cities offer intrinsic opportunities for criminal activity as a result of political neglect and the absence of a state presence together with highly localised economic decay Ackerman and Murray, ; Concha-Eastman et al. Other insights from social disorganisation theory connect higher crime rates with neighbourhoods exhibiting a higher density of offenders, a higher percentage of rental housing, and large social housing projects Vilalta and Muggah, Indeed, the probability of becoming a violence entrepreneur also increases if the individual is brought-up in a highly crime-affected area Vilalta and Muggah, ; Krivo and Peterson, Researchers tend to expect an inverse relationship between improvements in the welfare of the poor and reductions in crime and violence Roger and Pridemore, On the positive side of the ledger, most Latin American and Caribbean countries have experienced dramatic reductions in poverty since It was not always this way.

In spite of civil wars and brutal dictatorships in some Latin American and Caribbean states, homicide rates were closer to the global average during the s and s. Since then, homicide rates steadily increased while murder declined in most other parts of the world UNODC, The precise relationship between poverty and homicide is still a mystery. It is more than just a narrow material measure of dollars per day. While many people in Latin America and the Caribbean at the bottom end of the social ladder have experienced real income gains, the quality of economic growth has been poor.

For most countries, poverty reduction efforts were based on a model advocating consumption. Poverty reduction, then, was due in large part to direct cash transfers and access to low-wage, part-time work, which resulted in limited social mobility. This is because as income grows, the opportunity costs of crime also increase Felson and Clarke, ; Gaviria. There is also likely an increased demand for security and safety as levels of crime rise, forcing more investment in controlling crime. Another insight is that investments in social and economic development alone cannot necessarily reduce criminal violence.

It turns out that the size of the middle class and levels of poverty are not on their own statistical determinants of violence trends. What seems to matter is the speed of development: a 1 per cent increase in the growth rate of GDP correlates with 0. Panel surveys often show that the more unequal a setting, the higher the rates of violence.

In spite of demonstrated declines in poverty across Latin America and the Caribbean, inequality reduction is stagnating. In fact, Latin America exhibits the most unequal distribution of income in the world: including 10 of the top 15 most unequal countries on the planet Deas and Daza, ; Fainzylber et al.

There are at least two reasons why more inequality translates into more violence. First, large disparities in wealth create greater competition in and between populations experiencing high unemployment and limited upward mobility. Second, income inequality generates competition for public goods between the rich and poor.

Yet inequality does not tell the whole story.


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When measures of poverty are included in models used to examine homicide effects, the inequality—homicide effect diminishes substantially. According to some researchers, non-income measures of poverty—including infant mortality rates and the availability of only limited social protection services—also seem to play a statistically significant role in shaping the trajectory of homicidal violence Pridemore, Over half of those who actually do work are tied to the informal economy. Taken together, more than 20 million young people are not receiving education, training or employment.

Panel surveys have shown that a 1 per cent increase in youth unemployment leads to an additional 0. The supposed reason for this is that youth are especially susceptible to predation and criminal behaviour, and the benefits of engagement in the criminal market are higher than the formal market.

It is important to stress, however, that employment alone may be insufficient to deter involvement in crime. The perpetrators and the victims alike are typically young people who are out of work, out of school and out of options. As observed by economist Gary Becker in , criminals may determine that the benefits of their crimes outweigh the potential costs.

As such, limited employment horizons are associated with a reduction of the opportunity costs of crime. Unemployment is also connected to a surge in gang recruitment and membership. Relatedly, low rates of education achievement are also frequently correlated with higher exposure to criminal violence. Latin America has expanded access to schools and improved literacy rates, but drop-out rates are still high and school quality is low. The non-completion of school — especially secondary education — is strongly correlated with delinquency.

Studies from Bogota indicate that age and educational attainment are key factors shaping violent crime exposure, and that targeted support for permanent income can play an important deterrent role in criminal involvement. Weaknesses include low institutional legitimacy and uneven capacity. For example, abusive, corrupt and illegitimate institutions may fuel crime.

Meanwhile, low institutional capacity ensures law and order is associated with patronage and impunity. In Latin America, just 20 in every murders results in a conviction: the global rate is 43 in There are several explanations for institutional weakness. One of the most obvious is the legacy of conflict and military rule in countries like Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador or Haiti. Military and police institutions continue operating with a war mentality. Some of them harbour clandestine structures, in the armed forces, intelligence and judicial sectors.

In Guatemala, for example, right-wing paramilitary groups are still active and are cultivated by powerful elites ICG, All Latin American and Caribbean countries are affected, to varying degrees, by criminal organisations, especially drug cartels, which generate an estimated USD billion in revenues each year UNODC, b. In many countries, such groups have already penetrated all branches of government, not unlike the mafia during the twentieth century in Italy Bloc, ; Gambetta, ; Godson, ; Varese, After all, a weak state is a boon for organised crime. Buying off public institutions is much more efficient than fighting them.

For example, unregulated urbanisation partly explains a surge in homicide rates in large- and intermediate-sized cities and slums Muggah, a. Moreover, social norms that condone machismo and unequal gender relations are credited with shaping high intimate partner and domestic violence rates Morrison et al.

Almedalen 2017 Crime prevention – redefining policing strategies to increase community safety

Naturally, distinct settings confront one with distinct types of citizen security challenges, necessitating diverse solutions. For example, there are some settings with several independent criminal organisations in routine violent contact with state actors, as is the case in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. There are others where criminal groups are highly active but there is less violence, as in Guyana, Peru or Panama.

There are still more situations in which levels of criminal organisation are comparatively low but police and military corruption is high, as in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. It is of course the case that conventional citizen security approaches are germane to many situations of criminality. That said, in extreme scenarios, particularly in situations of intense state complicity with armed groups, more fundamental state reform, anti-corruption measures, and mediation actions may be more appropriate. At the centre of Figure These can include improvements in data gathering and use and changes in police practices and behaviour that often serve as a central locus of a variety of policy changes but that do not target particular types of crime Olavarria and Pantoja, Figure For example, in the lower left-hand corner of the central box in Figure New kinds of policing technologies are also increasingly being mobilised in Latin America to address low-level crime, and include geo-referenced crime data, intelligence-led patrol practices, neighbourhood watch groups and open street planning Arias and Ungar, ; Beato Filho, ; Weitekamp and Kerner, ; Weisburd et al.

Experiences from Mexico show that conventional policing strategies—together with prevention measures—can effectively deal with diffuse and uncoordinated criminal activity Calderon, ; Harriott, For example, focused deterrence—identifying the individuals most prone to using violence and engaging them in repeated communication with law enforcement officers, social services and community leaders—seems to have a strong positive effect in lowering violence rates.

Sophisticated crime groups such as cartels or transnational gangs may not be amenable to the strategies mobilised to combat petty crime. In the case of more organised gangs, the importance of local community building and citizen participation increases as does that of routine criminal investigation see Figure As long as state institutions are not deeply complicit in crime, local community activism and participation tend to play an important role in preventing, controlling and ultimately reducing crime and improving overall safety and security Arias, Even more pivotal, local resident associations often take ownership of citizen security issues in their own neighbourhoods through community watch groups and other forms of legal and legitimate informal control measures McIlwaine and Moser, The specific role of citizens in safeguarding their own security is not well understood, though some research from northern Mexico is revealing Vilalta, As criminals become more organised, particularly moving from youth gangs to more sophisticated mafias and extortion rackets, intensified investigations come to play an important citizen security role see Figure In such circumstances, the equation changes again.

Individuals who might have been willing to work with the government on controlling gangs or who might report street crimes may be unable to interact with the public authorities for fear of criminal retaliation. Under these circumstances more assertive and effective police investigations of criminal activities play a more important role in controlling crime.

In conditions of highly organised crime, with either a contentious or more collusive relationship with state officials, efforts by the state to reoccupy territory controlled by these criminal organisations constitute a key response to criminal activities see Figure Organised criminal groups often capitalise on their ability to control territory and to provide informal security services ordinarily provided by the state Garzon, In such cases, truces and ceasefires are tempting options, but must be treated with caution Muggah et al.

This can help state and city governments and police forces to actually conduct investigations and, over time, to engage in community building and the promotion of more participatory citizen security activities that are made possible by an improved and reliable state presence. State corruption, from the federal to the municipal level, can however attenuate the effects of a territorial occupation. When crime is highly organised and has strong relationships to the state, or in situations of state-centred criminal activities, state accountability and oversight, often exercised through internal or legislative investigations, becomes essential to controlling criminal activities see Figure The different elements of horizontal, vertical and social accountability can help break apart strongly collusive relationships between state officials and criminals.

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In conditions where state actors have generally positive relationships with different types of organised and disorganised armed actors, as reflected on the right hand border of Figure As the general structure of the state improves, it will become possible to hold collusive state actors to account and engage in security activities. In such settings, stability operations, as opposed to law enforcement efforts, may be essential to controlling violence and other forms of criminality Muggah, , Under these conditions different factions of the state may be engaged in internal struggles as well as in violent competition with armed groups.

Dealing with this problem may involve efforts to control and contain both conflict between these groups and confrontations between the state and relevant armed factions. Over time, as security is consolidated, institutional strengthening of state entities and social and economic reintegration interventions for armed actors may play an important role in promoting citizen security Muggah, Indeed, the peace-building and peacekeeping communities are addressing many of these kinds of no war no peace scenarios in the course of their work Muggah and Krause, The rise of so-called police-keeping as part of UN peace support mandates—including in Haiti—is testament to this.

Improving crime prevention knowledge and practice

This is because most of those involved in criminal activities — and this applies to a broad range of such endeavours — typically lack wider social and economic opportunities. Indeed they may fall back on criminality to secure protection from other criminal groups or to support themselves. Under these circumstances controlling crime may involve a heavy investment in social welfare policies that provide opportunities for vulnerable populations to build better connections into the social and economic system.

Integrating these communities and their populations more effectively into state services and programmes may involve developing strategies to help build and extend public services at the micro-level into the areas and populations most affected by criminal activities and violence. While there is growing political support and rising investment —including from donor countries in North America and Western Europe—this will be difficult to sustain in the absence of hard metrics of success.

What is more, it will be hard to replicate citizen security innovations without credible documentation of how activities were sequenced and without solid monitoring and evaluation. Notwithstanding a wealth of scientific impact evaluations in the North American and Western European setting, there is a surprisingly limited number of studies of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Citizen security initiatives were categorised according to their spatial, temporal and thematic scale, distribution, and budgets. In addition to tracking regional, national and municipal activities in a number of countries, the dashboard also considers the activities of multilateral and non-governmental sources such as the IADB, OAS, UNDP and World Bank, among others. While the assessment is not exhaustive, it is nevertheless complete and facilitates an analysis of trends Muggah and Aguirre, In other words, the goal was not just to assess the quantity of interventions—which, given the 1, collected across 26 countries, is sizeable.

One way to do this is to canvass the published, grey, and private literatures for impact evaluations. An intensive review of the literature detected some evidence in the criminological literature of the merits of deterrence-based strategies, interventions focused on at-risk youth, environmental design approaches, and approaches emphasising housing and tenure. But the fact is that there are very few peer-reviewed articles, and even fewer robust experimental designs that measure outcomes.

All but one of the evaluations identified a positive outcome. In these cases, the supporters of the intervention maintained documentation of outcomes such as the number of beneficiaries, or some statement on results. The legacy of citizen security interventions is far-reaching. There are, on the one hand, obvious security and safety dividends arising from the interventions discussed in this chapter. But there are also far-reaching transformational influences of citizen security on security sector and wider democratic governance.

Citizen security can and is reshaping security policies both domestically and intra-regionally 30 and generating important gains in the short, medium and long terms. Yet it is worth recalling that citizen security is a necessary but insufficient pathway to improving safety and preventing violence. It must also be accompanied by efforts to reduce concentrated poverty, chronic income and social inequality, and unemployment, especially among younger population groups.

It is vital that national, state and city leaders mobilise and sustain social and economic policies, not least initiatives that keep adolescents and teens in school and in the labour market. There are positive examples of this, including in Brazil and Mexico where targeted conditional cash transfer programmes and redistribution policies are correlated with reductions in homicides and sexual violence. While there are still conservative supporters of heavy-handed approaches to crime prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean, many governments are nevertheless seeking to strike a balance — investing in both punitive and preventive measures.

Likewise, improvements in the quantity and quality of data collection on crime 32 are also leading to smarter policing and the more efficient delivery of judicial services to those who need them most. These are all deeply challenging tasks, and all demand enlightened leadership if they are to be achieved. The greatest successes arise when policies are sustained across multiple electoral terms and are genuinely owned by citizens themselves.

Abt, T. Ackerman, V. Labour will immediately re-establish early advice entitlements in the Family Courts. The shameful consequences of withdrawal have included a requirement for victims of domestic abuse to pay doctors for certification of their injuries. At the same time, we will legislate to prohibit the cross-examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser in certain circumstances.

We will reintroduce funding for the preparation of judicial review cases. Judicial review is an important way of holding government to account. There are sufficient safeguards to discourage unmeritorious cases. We will review the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.

Labour will consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the Access to Justice Commission led by Lord Bach. The justice system can be bewildering and intimidating. There are many improvements that can be made both to the law and to the court processes. A Labour government will consult on establishing an environmental tribunal with simplified procedures to hear challenges to unlawful government decisions, like those made on the air quality strategy, without engaging in prohibitively expensive processes.

Labour will not prohibit the courts from raising monies to provide services, but we will introduce a ratio to establish the maximum difference between actual costs and charges levied. Labour will continue to extend the use of technology in our court service where it enhances access to justice, timely dispute resolution and efficient administration. Prison officers, probation officers and other workers need the resources to do their jobs safely, effectively and successfully.

Our prisons are overcrowded. Staffing levels are too low.


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The situation is dangerous and violence against prison officers is rising. Riots and disturbances in our prisons are increasing. Prison escapes cause distress to people living near prisons. A Labour government will publish annual reports on prisoner-staff ratios, with a view to maintaining safety and ending overcrowding. We will recruit 3, more prison officers and review the training and professional development available. We will publish prison officer to prisoner ratios for all prisons.

Our proposal to lift the public sector pay cap will help to increase the recruitment and retention of both prison officers and probation officers. Re-offending rates are too high. The Conservatives talked of a rehabilitation revolution, and then just gave up. Their proposal now is to lock up more and more individuals, ignoring the evidence that our prisons are too often dumping grounds for people who need treatment more than they need punishment.

Labour will insist on personal rehabilitation plans for all prisoners. It should never be a substitute for failing mental health services, or the withdrawal of funding from drug treatment centres. We will review the provision of mental health services in prisons. Under a Labour government, there will be no new private prisons and no public sector prisons will be privatised.

In government, we will again continue to innovate and incentivise local authorities, police forces and probation services to engage effectively with young people at risk of drifting into anti-social or criminal behaviours. We will embed restorative justice practices across all youth offending institutions. The Conservatives bulldozed changes to the probation service through despite warnings that they had not been tested and were founded on a weak evidence base.

Thousands of Labour supporters up and down the country took the plunge and campaigned with us for the first time recently—will you join them? The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better. Publisher Synopsis 'Daniel Gilling's text provides us with the definitive criminological analysis of New Labour's national project on community safety and crime prevention over the last decade.

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The Rise of Citizen Security in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Print book : English View all editions and formats. View all subjects. Similar Items. Online version: Gilling, Daniel. Daniel Gilling Find more information about: Daniel Gilling. Introduction -- 2. The New Labour project -- 3.

Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control
Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control
Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control
Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control
Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control
Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control Crime Reduction and Community Safety: Labour and the Politics of Local Crime Control

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