Security in Bogotá: A question of perception


Almost half of all the information Bogotanos receive every day regarding crime and the perception of insecurity in the capital comes from television, reveals the most recent Perception and Victimization Survey by the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce (CCB).

Released every six months in collaboration with the mayoralty and National Police, the Encuesta de Percepción y Victimizacio?n asked 8,200 residents aged 18 and older to answer detailed questions relating to their safety. The survey was carried out in 19 localities of the capital by consulting rm Yanhaas S.A and claims a 3% margin of error.

In the survey, there are important discrepancies between what residents perceive as unsafe and actual crime figures reported to the police. Among those polled, 18% said were victims of a crime compared with the 2017 survey of 14%; 29% stated that crime had impacted them indirectly, putting the total figure at 47%. This percentage coincides with the same survey covering the last six months of 2013 when Gustavo Petro was mayor. The Bogotá Chamber of Commerce has been conducting the Encuesta for 20 years.

Mugging continues to be the main cause of victimization in Bogotá (51%) compared to burglaries (8%), physical injury (7%), vandalism (7%), car theft (5%). Cybercrime, extortion and domestic violence rank among the lowest. The weapon most used during a mugging continues to be the knife in 58% of all cases. According to the police between January and September this year, 75,600 cases were documented, which amounts to 276 a day.

The four percent jump in direct victimization over the same period in 2017 is not encouraging for Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, despite the fact that homicide rates are now the lowest in 37 years – or 14 for every 100,000 citizens. With a population of 9 million, Bogotá’s homicide rate is double that of New York City. In terms of world capitals, Bogotá ranks alongside Mumbai, India, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in safety based on the 2017 Economist Safe Cities Index. Caracas remains the most dangerous city in South America.

Bogotá’s Security Secretariat confirmed that the street is where Bogotanos feel most unsafe (50%) and public transport second with 19%. Even though more policing within the TransMilenio articulated bus system has contributed to improved safety for passengers, 60% of the traveling public perceive public transport to be unsafe.

Cellphones are still the most coveted by thieves accounting for 40% of all items stolen. Cash comes second (22%) and wallets third (12%). Shopping malls are considered to be much safer than before with 7% claiming to have been victimized inside a commercial complex. The 2017 Survey put the number at 20% and attributed to how residents felt after a bomb exploded inside the C.C Andino.

The large majority of Bogotanos feel safe in their neighborhoods, homes and vehicles claims this survey, but mistrust of the police remains high, as only 21% interacted with an officer in their quadrant. Bogotá’s Quadrant Surveillance Plan was established in 2010 during the administration of Mayor Samuel Moreno in order for residents of a neighborhood to feel more protected. Now, locals are encouraged to exchange cell phone numbers and create WhatsApp groups to report suspicious persons and activity. After eight years in operation in Bogotá’s 19 localities, only 40% claim to have heard of the initiative.

Colombia’s justice system doesn’t inspire confidence among Bogotanos when it comes to resolving crime-related incidents. According to the survey, 57% believe courts do “a poor job” in coming to the defense of victims. The perception that justice is failing those affected by crime saw the most extreme expression last month when an alleged child abductor was attacked and killed in Ciudad Boli?var by a mob of 150 people. A false story circulating on WhatsApp claimed the victim was a Venezuelan migrant responsible for the disappearance of several minors in the locality. In fact, the victim was from Cartagena, and had recently moved to Bogotá from Venezuela in search of employment. Innocent of all accusations, Mayor Peñalosa quickly condemned the vigilante justice incident, and phenomenon experts believe is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 140 people every year in the capital.

The CCB 2018 Survey comes as Peñalosa enters his final year in office with an approval rating of 28% – according to a recent poll conducted by Gallup – in part based on the perception of Bogotanos that the city isn’t getting safer. As an outspoken critic of the sale of sharp objects in the capital, on October 20 the Mayor decreed the banning of all sales and purchases of all knives, machetes and daggers on the street. The law fines anyone carrying an “arma blanca” $196,000 pesos, except those who can prove it constitutes an element for work with required documentation. The law also covers all parks, sporting facilities and cultural centers. During the first weekend, after the law went into effect, 250 individuals were charged with possession of a sharp object.


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