Ciudad Juarez, once one of Mexico's most notorious and violent cities, saw its homicide rate drop over 60 percent between 2011 and 2012, a decrease which may have more to do with organized crime dynamics than security policy.
According to Diario de Juarez's count, which is based on figures from the State Attorney General's Office, the border city finished 2012 with a total of 751 homicides. This is compared to the 2,086 murders officially registered in 2011.
As noted in the Frontera e-mail list, kept by New Mexico State University librarian Molly Molloy, this is the lowest annual total reported for Juarez in the past five years. During this period, Juarez - a city with a population of 1.2 million - accounted for 11 percent of the total homicides in Mexico, Molloy writes.
|2007||320||>1 murder a day|
|2008||1,623||4.4 per day|
|2009||2,754||7.5 per day|
|2010||3,622||9.9 per day|
|2011||2,086||5.7 per day|
|2012||797||2 per day|
InSight Crime Analysis
There are several theories on the security gains in Juarez, which can be roughly divided into two camps: things improved thanks to the government, or things improved due to changes in organized crime.
The government made several strategic decisions that arguably helped pacify the city. Juarez saw the expansion of social programs like Todos Somos Juarez (We Are All Juarez), a $50 million initiative that channeled funds into after-school programs and community events. The program has been compared to Brazil's community policing program, known as the UPP.
Another key move was the withdrawal of the army and the scaling back of the federal police. Corrupt elements in both forces were blamed for carrying out extrajudicial killings, and participating in drug trafficking and kidnapping. The army, deployed to Juarez in 2009 and gradually phased out over 2010, had been strongly criticized for committing abuses and contributing to the city's most violent era.
Tougher policing also may have played a role in reducing the crime rate. The local police force, under the command of Chief Julian Leyzaola, has been credited with implementing a more effective citizen security strategy, as Al Jazeera reported last year. Police divided the city into quadrants and focused on bringing down crime levels section by section. Still, the force continues to struggle with corruption and abusive officers.
There are other theories that the decrease in violence in Juarez had little to do with the actions of the security forces or government. As outlined in a report released last October by Southern Pulse, the peace was arguably achieved because the Sinaloa Cartel took control of the city. Violence first began to surge in 2007 after the Sinaloans attempted to take over Juarez's highly prized drug trafficking routes. Local enforcer gangs like La Linea and the Aztecas fought a bitter war, often using unrestrained violence that targeted civilians and drove up the murder count. Southern Pulse argued that these local gangs will likely continue fighting over turf, but the larger conflict between the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartel has already come to an end.
And as Molloy argued to Proceso magazine, Juarez's murder statistics may not be telling the whole story. The homicides registered by the State Attorney General do not always account for victims found in mass graves. One such grave discovered 25 kilometers southeast of the city in November 2012 containing 19 bodies. Without accounting for the number of Juarez's disappeared, the city's current homicide rate may be deceptively low.
Even as violence in Juarez is apparently dropping, other cities across the country continue to struggle with spiking homicides. Acapulco, Monterrey, and Culiacan have all seen rising crime. Mexico as a whole registered 12,394 murders over the past year, a one percent drop from 2011. Other parts of the country looking to follow Juarez's example would do well to absorb the fact that, disappointingly, there may be only so much that the government can do to dramatically improve security in the short term.