Security: Mixed signals

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Policia Nacional de Colombia
Policia Nacional de Colombia

President Juan Manuel Santos and Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro met this week in one of the capital’s grittiest neighborhoods to discuss security in the city, underscoring the fact that 2013 has been one of the safest years in recent memory for the metropolis home to more than 8 million residents.

Crime rates in Colombia

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Despite a nagging reputation as a dangerous city, Bogotá has managed to reduce its homicide rate from 80 murders per 100,000 residents in 1993 to 17 in 2013, making it one of the safest urban areas in Latin America. Other crimes such as muggings and break-ins also decreased slightly in the first months of the year, although the city remains one of the nation’s least secure in terms of robbery and assault.

Petro has suggested that recent efforts to disarm residents have helped decrease the homicide rate, noting that the figure was cut in half during the first years of his term to what is now one of the country’s lowest. Murders have also decreased significantly at the national level, dropping by almost 50 percent over the last decade.

Concerns remain, however. A report released this year by the National Statistical Department (DANE) reveals that one out of every five adult Colombians was a victim of at least one crime during 2012. The most common crimes were mugging and petty theft, affecting 13 percent of the nation’s residents throughout last year. Men and women were equally affected with most victims under the age of 30. More than 70 percent of such personal thefts involved stealing cell phones, a particularly widespread crime in the capital, though recent aggressive efforts to crack down on resellers of stolen phones may help reduce incidents in Bogotá.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the same report suggested that more than 60 percent of Colombians feel unsafe in their cities of residence. Regarding a sense of security, Bogotá consistently ranks at the bottom of the list compared to other Colombian cities, with only 17 percent of residents claiming to feel secure in the city, according to the most recent survey from the Red de Ciudades Cómo Vamos, a polling organization. On the other end of the spectrum, a majority of residents felt safe in only three major cities: Manizales, Bucaramanga and Medellín.

Lending credence to residents feelings of insecurity, Bogotá holds as of last year the dubious recognition of being Colombia’s second worst city for combined non-lethal crime including mugging, vehicle robbery, home burglary, assault and domestic abuse with more than a quarter of residents being victims of at least one of those crimes during last year, according to DANE. Cartagena boasts the nation’s lowest non-lethal crime rate for the same timeframe with just seven percent of residents affected.

Of course, crime rates in Bogotá vary wildly by sector, with almost half of all reported illegal activity occurring in just 31 neighborhoods out of the thousands that make up the city, according to the Secretary of the Government. Higher crime areas include the area surrounding Corabastos in the locality of Kennedy, a primary entry and storage point for drugs and contraband, and downtown areas such as El Bronx.

At the national level, persistent problems such as drug trafficking and kidnapping have become somewhat less problematic over the past decade, particularly after the demobilization of paramilitary forces in 2006. However, guerrilla groups remain highly active in remote regions of the country, and emergent criminal bands have rekindled much of the petty crime that once financed paramilitary organizations, causing spikes of violence in certain areas, including some neighborhoods in Bogotá.

Nonetheless, data suggest that the country is on the right track as Colombia focuses on a booming economy, growing foreign tourism and stepping up to a leadership role in Latin America. While much work remains to ensure the safety of residents and visitors alike, few would argue that Colombia’s future looks to be anything but bright.

1 COMMENT

  1. I agree with this article. I spent just under 2 months in your great country over the Xmas New Year period this year. We went out at night a few times including to look at the Xmas lights in Bogota and Medellin. I felt safe at all times. The presence of many police, including the auxillaries, was reassuring. My perception of your country has changed drastically and I can’t wait to come back.

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