The socio-political gate to Ibero-America

Seminar on Public Security Policies

Nov-24-03 - by Eduardo Ovalles

The International Seminar on New Public Policies on Citizensí Security held in Buenos Aires from November 20 to 21 was a good opportunity to analyze the different and multiple issues around the security problem.

It was a valuable academic meeting organized by the Ministry of Justice, Security and Human Rights at the Microcine Room of the Central Police Department, where renowned international experts participated.

I attended the Table held in the afternoon of November 20 where participants analyzed the 'World Experiences about New Citizensí Security Policiesí, where three guests working abroad -a Spanish, a Chilean and an Argentine guest- made their presentations.

Spanish Professor Amadeu Recasens I Brunet, director of the Police School of Catalonia, stood out for making a brilliant terminological accuracy of different concepts pertaining to security. Thus he defined the terms public security, citizen security, insecurity situation and lastly public security policies. Then he referred to the role of the police, which represents citizensí link between the public and the private, and he stated that nowadays we cannot talk about one security policy but a set of security policies due to the complexity and diversity of the issue.

He also explained the concept at global level, where the higher the vision and responsibility of security issues -at government level- the greater the repressive attitude towards crime. By contrast, the lower the vision and responsibility -at local and community level- the higher the prevention policies.

In connection to the reorganization of the police in the districts -in a time when the largest police force in Argentina is faced with a deep process of reforms- he pointed that they took almost one decade to make it.

After analyzing the particular features of the Spanish model, in the specific case of the police in Barcelona, he said that the security policies have an active participation on the part of the community.

On the Chilean side, Dr. Gonzalo García Pino, who is the head of the Citizen Security Division at the Interior Ministry in Chile made reference to the special situation in his country where the most violent crime rates have been reduced -it reports one of the lowest in the continent in murders- and kidnaps have not entered the country but people are afraid and demand more security.

When talking about the role of the media, he spoke about how the recurring broadcasting of a particular crime, such as murder, may generate a strong feeling of insecurity without the necessary quantitative escalation of the crime. He also stressed the importance that both government officials in the Executive and Judicial branches as well as the security forces send coherent messages to citizens not to trigger signs of uncertainty as another point affecting the perception of insecurity.

Another aspect he pointed out was the need to have crime maps to forecast, assess and correct the security policies and that it proves fundamental to implement crime prevention and control strategies. In terms of community participation, he mentioned the example that Chileans attach so much importance to this issue that they implement different security and prevention policies in each community considering not only the crime figures but also the social environment and citizensí demands.

Lastly, Dr Elías Carranza, an Argentine renowned figure who has lived in Costa Rica for several years now, where he is in charge of the UN Latin American Institute for Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders considered a regional approach.

Latin America reports a rise in common criminality both in crimes against property as well as in those against people. A rise in the number of kidnaps is seen in countries such as Colombia, Mexico and El Salvador. Crime with weapons escalated. There are more reports on sexual abuses, especially in relation to trade, which in his view hold a direct link to the economic and social development of the countries. He stressed that despite the rise in penitentiary rates and the tightening of the criminal legislation in the region, the crime rate has not improved.

The last point, he said, is not a phenomenon pertaining to Latin America only since in the US, for instance, out of every 1,000 serious crimes reported, only 6 are sentenced to jail for at least one year. He also underscored the importance of the crime prevention policies and the lower cost they have compared to those implemented by the criminal justice, as for instance it is less expensive for a government in an 8 to 1 ratio to send the youth to school than to jail.

Lastly, he pointed to some variables, which in his view, influence on crime in the region namely, the long time young people spend outside schools and the family group, the large young populations in certain regions, the rise in the jobless rate, the lowest per capita consumption, the highest urban concentration, the wider income distribution gap, among others.

To conclude, the seminar on public security policies was a valuable meeting to analyze the different and multiple issues that relate to the security problem in a time when crime in particular and insecurity in general have turned the priority issues on the agenda of the Argentine government.

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