Friday, February 23, 2007

A model for progress against crime?

A recent article from the Miami Herald looks at the progress against crime made by the city of San Martin by controlling guns:

Fed up with violence that made this bustling city of about 150,000 among the most dangerous in this Central American nation - with an average of seven homicides per month - municipal leaders joined police in a program that outlawed weapons in public spaces such as parks, sports facilities and restaurants.

A year after the Libres de Armas (free of weapons) program was launched, San Martin has seen a significant reduction in the homicides and other violent crimes of the kind that are bedeviling El Salvador 15 years after peace accords ended a brutal civil war that left an estimated 75,000 dead.

"Things are much better," said Henriquez. "You can go out on the street now. You don't see dead bodies all over the place anymore.".....

The Libres de Armas program in San Martin is just one small initiative that has made a difference. The program, the only one of its kind in Central America, was launched in late 2005 with funds from the United Nations Development Programme to help pay for equipment, computers, software and literature.

A new city ordinance prohibits weapons in 31 public spaces. Police increased their presence in hot spots and set up inspection sites on main roadways to confiscate unregistered weapons. A public awareness campaign declares that "less arms equals more peace."

Other municipalities are now looking at launching a similar program.

But there are flaws. For starters, the ban on weapons in public places is aimed at registered weapons, while the majority of crimes are committed with illegal arms, said Avila, the police director.

Politics also has hampered efforts. The program was launched while the municipality was ruled by the conservative ARENA party. But now that the leftist FMLN party is in control, cooperation has dwindled.

"The police are divorced from us completely. Public security also is divorced from us," said David Canas, an FMLN member of San Martin's commission for security, who accused the previous ARENA administration of being "contributors to the delinquency."

Police officers stationed in San Martin, meanwhile, are struggling with a smaller force, cut from 106 to 82 officers, and fewer resources because of security needs elsewhere.

"Nonetheless, we are doing our job," said Eric Hernandez, an officer involved with the program. "We need the commitment of the institutions involved to retake control of this project. We need the support of the community. We need to work together."

Suri de Hernandez, a mother of two girls, cringes at the thought of a return to the days when "guys would shoot at each other on the streets all the time."

"We lived in constant fear," said Hernandez, 28, a pinata seller. "Violence is still a problem, but it's not as bad. The situation must continue to get better for the sake of our children."


wally said...

A somewhat confusing article, in that it gives no data for a drop in gun related violence, just anecdotal evidence. It would help to know if unregistered guns were taken off the streets, and if so, an idea of how many and did the homicide rate drop and if so how much. He mentioned computer equipment being supplied so surely this data exists. Deep into the article it quotes a police spokesman as saying that the effort focused on banning registered weapons from certain public places but most people were shot with unregistered weapons. It would help if police sources could be found that more heartedly endorsed the program. I´m not saying that it´s a bad idea, El Salvador needs something that works, and what is currently being tried doesn´t seem to work. And people who live in the area obviously have a good idea what is happening. But from the way the article was written there was little or no evidence given to back up the argument. This is a big change for this culture, and if the writer wants to convine people to embrace it, he may need to offer more data.

El-Visitador said...

Wally's healthy skepticism is more than warranted.

"San Martin has seen a significant reduction..." says the Herald's article.

What if this "Libres de Armas" program had been simultaneously run in another town a few miles down the road... and produced no positive results?

Wouldn't you then say that perhaps what improved the situation was the hard-line policies of former ARENA mayor Valentín Castro, who just happens to have been a private security supervisor prior to entering politics?

You would not know, because you don't know if what drove the homicide reductions are the mayor's policies or the abusive limitation of the people's right to defend themselves.

This program's miserable failure was already questioned six months ago by a smart reporter, Beatriz Castillo from Diario Co-Latino.

Either Beatriz did not have a statist agenda full of preconceived lefty notions and abusive of the people's right to defend themselves, like Nancy San Martin from the Herald does, or simply Beatriz is a much smarter and better journalist.