Target Interventions to Reduce Homicides in Mexico


Homicides in Mexico had been steadily falling since hitting their peak between 2010 and 2011, but sudden spikes in 2015 and 2016 are causing the international community to look around for answers. October 2016 was the most violent month in nearly four years, appearing to wipe out recent progress.

The good news is that based on disaggregated data, we know enough to start addressing the unavoidable challenge of reducing homicidal violence in Mexico. The key here is to walk away from generalizations and focus on the places, the people, and the social behaviors where the majority of the problem is concentrated. We know where homicides happen, the profile of victims and perpetrators, and what strategies have worked to reduce homicides. With this knowledge, it’s possible to work toward reversing this sudden spike through focused and evidence-based programming.

Homicides are highly concentrated

Although homicide might be a problem of global concern, this is a problem disproportionately localized in very specific neighborhoods, and demographics (just Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela account for 25 percent of global homicides).

To illustrate this extreme concentration, the state of Yucatán in Mexico has a homicide rate of 2.7 per 100,000 inhabitants while the state of Guerrero has a homicide rate of 67.2. At an even more granular level, there are specific neighborhoods where violence is staggering. While Mexico City’s homicide rate is 13.4 overall, the Congreso police district’s rate is 1,123.

Homicides are also concentrated demographically. Most perpetrators are young, underserved men, and so are most victims. Victims and perpetrators tend to know each other, and 71 percent of homicides in Mexico in 2010 occurred in the same municipality where the perpetrators lived. Homicides are also driven by social dynamics like conflicts between groups. Combining these factors of geography and demography shows where policy and programs need to target, for example by focusing on young, disenfranchised men in particular neighborhoods of Acapulco, who are exponentially more likely to be involved in homicide than the national average.

Reduction first, prevention after

Not only do we know who is likely to be involved in homicides and where — we also have causal frameworks to design solutions. Traditional prevention frameworks call for addressing the root causes of violence, which makes a lot of sense. Many studies relate violence to its root causes, which include inequality, social exclusion, weak institutional contexts, and other important variables. But counterintuitive to this approach, we’ve learned that prevention is unfortunately not retroactive. We need to effectively address today’s violence by focusing mainly on more proximate causes (drivers and triggers) and aiming for reduction first. Drivers are factors like school dropout, teen pregnancy, and dysfunctional families; while triggers are more immediate, such as group conflicts that involve retaliation, or access to firearms and alcohol.

To reduce homicides, we need to break the cycle of violence by focusing directly on the most violent groups and collaborating between the police, justice sector, and the community. We can learn from several programs that have been successful.

1. Focused deterrence (U.S.): Begun in Boston in 1996 under the name of Operation Ceasefire, this approach is based on focusing the attention of a tailored partnership of law enforcement, the justice sector, and community actors on a small number of chronic offenders. The program uses deliberate, routine interactions with law enforcement while also framing support for offenders as a moral and practical obligation. Operation Ceasefire achieved a 63 percent reduction in youth homicides in Boston and has been replicated across the U.S. with great results.

2. Paz y Justicia (Honduras): This program in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, whose name means “Peace and Justice,” involves hot spot analysis, criminal investigation, case management, community engagement, support to address trauma, and targeted financial assistance. Project evaluations showed an 80 percent reduction in homicides in intervention areas.

3. Fica Vivo (Brazil): The Minas Gerais-based initiative uses hot spot analysis, police saturation, and a strategy known as qualified repression, which includes many of the principles of focused deterrence. Fica Vivo, which translates to “Stay Alive,” produced a 69 percent decrease in homicides in Minas Gerais’ capital, Belo Horizonte.

Saving lives requires focus

If we understand who’s involved in homicides, where they will take place, and strategies that have worked to prevent homicide, what should we do next to reverse Mexico’s homicide spike? Here are five principles to guide our efforts.

1. Start small: Pilot programs in a small number of neighborhoods in one or two cities before expanding nationwide.

2. Partner justice, police, and social prevention efforts: Work across all three sectors and prioritize implementation at the street level instead of waiting for large-scale reforms.

3. Focus on homicides: Concentrate specifically on reducing homicides. Reduction or prevention efforts that don’t prioritize specific types of violence tend to fail.

4. Develop the capacity to engage those at higher risk: Work directly with young men who are at the highest risk of being involved in homicide. To identify these high-risk individuals, remember that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and make use of existing youth assessment tools.

5. Improve data collection: Invest more in local intelligence and social network analyses to build the evidence base, and use this data to inform decision-making.

To save lives, we need dedicated projects that focus on homicide without becoming sidetracked by other issues. Just as a cancer treatment wouldn’t try to address diabetes, violence reduction programs should focus specifically on types of violence separately from others, which deserve their own efforts. Studies have shown that it’s possible to reduce homicides dramatically through evidence-based policy and programming, but it will take this kind of focus to do so.

Enrique Betancourt is the director of USAID’s Juntos Para la Prevención de la Violencia project in Mexico and an expert in violence prevention. He previously served as the executive director of Mexico’s National Center for Crime Prevention and Citizen Participation and as the deputy general director of social policy for the presidency of the Republic of Mexico.

Leave a Comment

Why Electronic Payments Will Support Inclusive Growth in the Philippines


People often give me puzzled looks when I try to describe my job here, and I don’t blame them. Since 2015 I have worked on an international development program that supports the Philippines’ shift from a cash-based economy to a cash-light economy, which will improve the livelihoods of Filipinos by getting more people involved in the formal economy. Got it? If so, I hope to see you at our next event. But if you’re like most people I meet, this explanation leaves more than a little to be desired,...

Read More »

A Day in the Life of Grace: Food Security and Nutrition in a Rapidly Urbanizing Africa


By Lark Walters and Rob Henning It’s 7:30 p.m. on a typical Tuesday evening in Kampala, Uganda, and Grace Kagawa is rushing to her small home in the Bwaise slum. After an 11-hour day working as a street sweeper downtown, and with little time and space to prepare the evening meal in her single-room home, the options for nourishing her two children are limited. Although Grace’s income sets her family above the poverty line, it is still a struggle to afford adequate, nutritious food. Food prices...

Read More »

How a Small City Can Take on the Big Challenge of Conservation Financing


By Jana Franke-Everett and Anselmo Cabrera Negros, the fourth-largest island in the Philippines, is best known for sugar and grilled chicken. However, the charcoal that fuels restaurant owners’ income challenges the source of livelihood for rice and sugar farmers. What is the link between a tasty grilled chicken and a cup of rice? Well, the demand for charcoal puts pressure on the island’s remaining natural forest that protects the watersheds because the forests in the uplands are a common source...

Read More »

3 Questions with Chris Hillbruner: Why Famine No Longer Takes the World by Surprise


Chris Hillbruner is the deputy chief of party of analysis for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), a USAID-funded project that compiles data and warns of impending food insecurity in almost 40 countries around the world. The eyes of the world are on South Sudan right now after famine was declared on February 20. The threat of famine also looms in Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria. What caused these crises and what does the international community need to do now? Sometimes food insecurity...

Read More »

Is “Secure Enough” Good Enough for Land Tenure? A Case Study from Rwanda


By Michael Brown and Ailey Kaiser Hughes What is “secure enough” tenure? The concept of “secure enough” tenure has been discussed in the context of humanitarian and post-disaster programming and increasingly through donor initiatives. In our new paper, we adopt the following definition of secure enough tenure, established by USAID: “[T]he benchmark of tenure security [is] when rights to land and natural resources are not arbitrarily contested by the state, private entities, or others and that...

Read More »

Approaches that Projects Can Learn from the Democracy and Governance Sector


What is cross-sectoral democracy, rights, and governance (DRG) programming and why is it important? Cross-sectoral DRG programming recognizes that development issues are not single-sector problems — they overlap with other sectors; exist in a political context; and are as much, and often more, about power and relationships as they are about technical solutions. Solving a public health problem, for example, may involve governance, service delivery, citizen participation in decisions about health...

Read More »

Climate Information Services: Distilling Data into Informed Decision-Making


Climate information services (CIS) is the new acronym on the block in the global environment and climate resilience community. The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) is the leading international advocate and authority on CIS. It was established in 2009 as a result of a U.N. initiative to support integrated international efforts for the development and uptake of CIS in support of decision-making. GFCS emphasizes that “climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get,” and defines...

Read More »

Empowering Health Workers to #BeBoldforChange


This blog post originally appeared on the HRH2030 program website. When we think about gender and human resources for health (HRH), we typically think about the challenges women face to fully participate in the workforce. Are women able to enter pre-service education institutions — and complete their courses of study — at the same rate as their male counterparts? Is there a pay gap for men and women performing the same work? But, what about the challenges that women and girls face when seeking...

Posted in: Health
Read More »

Assessing for Success: Education in Crisis and Conflict Environments


The number of displaced persons in the world has reached historic highs, with one out of every four school-aged children living in countries affected by conflict and crisis, where access to education is frequently a challenge. The International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) states that “funding for education response should be given equal priority with water, food, shelter, and health responses to ensure education provision for affected populations.” Consequently, international...

Posted in: Education and Youth
Read More »

Be Bold for Change, in Big and Small Ways


The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, "Be Bold for Change," conjures up images of making big strides for women’s equality. While big actions, such as the recent women’s marches around the world, are a highly visible call for equality, the smaller bold actions are just as important, if not more important, to advance equality both in the United States and internationally. Over the past year, there has been renewed emphasis in the United States to acknowledge the need for promoting...

Read More »

3 Imperatives for Gender Programming in Education


Successful and sustainable gender-sensitive policies in education that promote equity require commitment from all stakeholders of the education ecosystem within a country context. Without incorporating commitment, understanding, and partnership into the development of gender-sensitive policies, there is no guarantee that program initiatives will be sustained after the project lifecycle. Often, even though gender policies might exist at the national level, local school personnel, parents,...

Posted in: Education and Youth
Read More »

3 Questions with Truong Duc Tung: Erasing Exclusion One Law at a Time


Truong Duc Tung is an inclusive growth director for USAID’s Governance for Inclusive Growth (GIG) Project in Vietnam. GIG works to strengthen policymaking while cultivating a more inclusive and participatory environment in Vietnam. Why is social inclusion important for the development of Vietnam? Though Vietnam has made significant progress in achieving the key targets of the Millennium Development Goals and has confirmed its strong commitment to implement the Sustainable Development...

Read More »

How to Prepare Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s Job Market


After setting the global development agenda in 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations highlighted the need to focus on enhancing economic growth through sustainable and meaningful work in its 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Today, the UN calls for the “promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all,” and seeks to address the 470 million jobs that need to be created for youth entering the workforce from 2016 to 2030....

Posted in: Education and Youth
Read More »

3 Questions with Anne Spahr: From A to Z on Economic Growth in Asia and the Middle East


Anne Spahr is the chief of party of the USAID-funded Asia and Middle East Economic Growth (AMEG) Best Practices Project. She is a micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) finance and business development specialist with more than 10 years of experience working with farmers, fishers, and small business owners in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. What trends in the Asia and Middle East regions are you seeing around economic growth? Are there any challenges and opportunities that...

Read More »

Government Accountability is More than a Simple Equation


Improving government accountability has been a goal of democracy programming in the development world for years. Practitioners of governance reform have tended to pursue increased accountability by focusing on two individual factors of the equation: transparency, by opening up government decision-making processes and increasing access to information; and participation, by increasing citizens’ voices through strengthened civil society organizations and improved advocacy methods. The problem with...

Read More »

Building a Future Above the Floodwaters


This piece originally appeared on ASU Now. For coastal residents of the east African country, Mozambique, severe floods that endanger their health and lives are a frequent reality. Helping communities cope with extreme weather events is a challenge for locals and development agencies alike. Taking the cultural attitudes of those served into account, however, could be the key to a better impact. That’s why Chemonics International, a global development company, tapped anthropologists from Arizona...

Read More »

Local Government: A Channel for Action on Climate Adaptation


This blog post originally appeared on Climatelinks. New research in Mali highlights a promising opportunity for action on climate change adaptation: local government development planning. Tim Finan and Mamadou Baro of the University of Arizona presented results of a study supported by USAID’s Adaptation, Thought Leadership, and Assessments (ATLAS) project on January 12 at USAID’s monthly Adaptation Community Meeting. The study explored ways in which Mali’s 25-year-old decentralized...

Read More »

How Drones Can Help in Humanitarian Emergencies


This blog post originally appeared on ICTWorks.org and was written by Denise Soesilo and Timo Luege. Few technologies have undergone as radical a change as drones. Where five years ago, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, were mainly seen as an instrument of war, today they are far more likely to be flown by a wedding photographer than an airman. Earlier this year, the Consumer Technology Association estimated that globally 9.4 million civilian UAVs will be sold in 2016. Increased...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Bringing the Power of Google to Scientists in the Lower Mekong


This blog post was contributed by SERVIR, a joint initiative by NASA and USAID, and was originally posted on www.servirglobal.net. Landscapes on Earth are changing at unprecedented levels. For scientists, practitioners, and environmental decision makers, tracking these changes efficiently and accurately is critical to protecting lives and livelihoods. While there are many ways to learn about the dynamic nature of the Earth, satellite technology provides a unique perspective in observing our land,...

Read More »