The Bogotá Chamber of Commerce has released it twice-yearly survey on security in the capital, and which reveals a steady decline in violent crime, as well as a disconcerting perception that security is deteriorating.
The study Encuesta de Percepción y Victimización consulted 8,700 persons in the 19 localities of the capital, compiling their answers to wide-ranging questions, such as, Have you been a victim of crime in the last six months? Where in the city do you feel most unsafe? Do you know your neighborhood police?
During the last decade, the CCB (acronym for Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá) has conducted these detailed surveys, and which, according to authorities, are the most accurate data on the security situation in Bogotá. The latest study by consulting firm Yanhaas S.A claims a 3% margin of error.
According to the survey, 50% of Bogotanos consider the security situation has worsened during the first six months of 2017 – a 9% increase from the same period last year (41%). This jump is significant as it reflects a mood of pessimism among the public, despite plenty of positive statistics in the report to prove otherwise. For Bogotá’s Security Secretariat Daniel Mejía part of the blame of the pessimism has to do with a rash of bombings that rocked the capital, and sadly claimed the lives of innocents. On February 19, in the La Macarena neighborhood, an explosive placed in a doorway detonated killing one police officer. The attack was blamed on an urban militia front of the country’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla. Then, the terror attack inside the Andino Shopping Mall on June 18 which killed three women and injured dozens. Even though these attacks seem to be unrelated to each other, and nine of the alleged Andino attackers were captured, Mejía believes Bogotanos are not only feeling vulnerable, but as other studies in Colombian cities show, there’s “a generalized mood of negativity.”
The Secretariat also acknowledged that the Perception section of this study is based precisely on perception which often – but not always – coincides with truth. According to Mejía, the pervasive negativism has also been exacerbated by social media and cites several examples where journalists invented stories of supermarket robberies, child abductions that allegedly took place in the Colombian capital, when in fact, they occurred in Brazil months before.
One important fact that does emerge from this survey is the 14% decline in homicides compared to 2016. If this downward trend continues to the end of the year, the homicide rate in this city of 8 million will be the lowest in a half century or 14 killed for every 100,000.
Now some gritty details as to what is really happening on our streets. Of the 8,700 polled, 14% claimed they had been the direct victims of a crime during the first six months of the year. Another 26% knew of someone within their family nucleus. With victimization totalling 40%, the most common crime in Bogotá continues to be mugging – known in Spanish as “raponazo” – and the majority of cases (39%) taking place on the street, followed by public transport (29%), shopping malls (20%).
Cellphones are the most coveted items for thieves accounting for 40% of all items reported stolen. Personal belongings (jewellery) comes in second (26%) and cash (21%) third. According to the Encuesta, these statistics are unchanged from 2016. Mejía stated that cellphone theft is a serious law enforcement issue for this administration as the trafficking is controlled by “international crime groups.”
Bogotanos and the police appear to be gaining each other’s trust, claims the survey. While only 15% believe they can recover a stolen item by going to police, 31% believe crimes must be reported. This percentage is almost double from the first semester of 2016. In January this year, a new Police Code came into effect, with strict nes for disobeying traf c rules, insulting a cop, keeping the rumba going after midnight, among other misdemeanors. But, while the police will do their part with the paperwork, Bogtanos fundamentally mistrust the justice system. The institutions with the highest favorability rating in terms of providing security, are the Army (55%), Family Commissaries (26%) and National Police (23%).
Bridges and parks are thought to be more unsafe than before, even though the mayoralty of Enrique Peñalosa advances with beautification projects, installs some 1,700 CCTV cameras this year, as well as improved public lighting in parks.
The survey signals-out the city’s mass transit system TransMilenio as the place where Bogotanos feel most vulnerable to crime with 50% believing insecurity has increased. In 2016, this number stood at 36%.
Like many surveys released by the city, there’s room for interpretation. What this Encuestra aims to do is give citizens a general overview of what law enforcement already knows, as well as recommendations to become more proactive when it comes to one’s safety – such as taking better care of one’s belongings in TransMilenio, and reporting suspicious activity in your barrio to the local Cuadrante.
There are plenty of reasons to be negative about the quality of life in any major city, beginning with air quality and traffic. Bogotá doesn’t have to be a stressful place to live, and by being in tune with the safety issues on our streets, is always better than being sorry.