For the eighth year in a row, an annual report from the Gallup polling organization has ranked Latin America as the least secure region in the world, underscoring the persistence of regional security challenges and the ways in which crime and insecurity impact citizens' daily lives.
Gallup's 2017 "Global Law and Order Report" ranks 135 countries from which a total of 136,000 individuals were asked during 2016 to respond to four questions about perceptions of insecurity. These four questions concerned the level of confidence in law enforcement and the feeling of safety when out alone at night, as well as whether the respondents had been victim of robbery or physical aggression in the past year.
As is often the case with global security-themed studies, Latin America and the Caribbean ranked at the bottom of the list, with a "law and order index" score of 64 out of 100 -- the eighth year in a row the region ranked as the worst in the world. The region composed of the United States and Canada was ranked at the top with a score of 86 out of 100.
At the national level, Venezuela was ranked last globally in the law and order index, with a score of 42 out of 100. Only 12 percent of Venezuelans felt safe out alone at night, and barely 14 percent said they trusted law enforcement. Both of those scores are the lowest ever recorded by the Gallup poll since surveyers began asking those questions.
Of the 11 countries with the worst overall law and order index scores, nearly half are located in Latin America and the Caribbean: Venezuela, El Salvador, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Argentina.
Somewhat surprisingly, Honduras tied with Chile as having the highest law and order index score of any Latin American country (72 out of 100). Honduras also achieved the greatest reduction worldwide in perceptions of insecurity between 2015 and 2016, ameliorating its score by eight points.
InSight Crime Analysis
Measuring insecurity can be difficult. Statistics of questionable accuracy -- murder rates, in particular -- are often used a proxy for determining the level of insecurity in a given country or territory. However, combining such figures with perception surveys like Gallup's can paint a more complete picture of how the security situation is experienced by those living in the areas studied.
For example, the substantial improvement in Honduras' law and order score from 2015 to 2016 might seem counterintuitive at first glance, because murder rates essentially stayed flat from year to year. However, the country has indeed made important security gains recently, and has made significant progress in terms of cleaning up its notoriously corrupt police force. This is reflected in the Gallup survey, which states that the "percentage of Hondurans who say they have confidence in their local police rose particularly sharply, from 29 [percent] in 2015 to 50 [percent] in 2016."
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While it comes as little surprise that Venezuela fell in last place -- the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and has experienced deepening political and economic crises that have fed insecurity -- there are also countries that ranked far worse than might be expected.
Argentina is perhaps the best example of this dynamic. Although the country ranked near the bottom of the law and order index, between 2015 and 2016, overall crimes dropped by 6 percent, and Argentina had one of the lowest homicide rates in the region: about 6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
Several factors could help explain this discrepancy. For one, despite decreasing crime rates, nearly one out of three Argentines admitted to being victim of a crime in 2016, according to a recent government survey. Second, corruption is endemic within law enforcement, to the point where authorities have launched a mobile app for citizens to denounce corruption without having to file a physical complaint in police stations. And finally, Argentina's low score could also hint at the impact of an alarmist government communications strategy regarding violence fueled by increasing drug-related activities, as part of a broader shift toward heavy-handed security policies.