A heavily armed Mexican policeman

A new report analyzing the data behind Mexico’s drug war shows in 2012 organized crime related killings declined or leveled off while becoming increasingly concentrated in key strategic areas.

The report, compiled by the San Diego University’s Trans-Border Institute, analyzed a range of data sources -- both official and independent -- to build a comprehensive picture of the shifting violence patterns in Mexico.

The most significant trend identified was the slowing rate of drug war killings. While the conclusions of different data sets varied widely, they agreed that in 2012 the substantial year on year increases Mexico has seen since 2007 came to an end.

According to data collated by Mexican newspaper Reforma, organized crime related murders dropped by over 21 percent, falling to 8,989 from 12,284. Projections for the government’s as yet unreleased figures show a 28% drop. However, figures from another media source, Milenio, showed an increase in its crime related murder tallies but by less than 1 percent – far lower than in previous years.

The report also highlights how Mexico’s drug war violence is increasingly concentrated. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of municipalities that recorded no murders dropped by 28 percent, while the number of municipalities with 25 or more annual homicides grew from 50 to 240. However, in 2012, (for which, the report points out, the data set is incomplete) the number of municipalities free from violence increased 16% while the number with more than 25 homicides decreased more than 25% to 178.

Over half the organized crime linked murders nationwide came from just five states; Sinaloa, Chihuaha, Nuevo Leon, Guerrero and Coahuila (although the order depends of the data set). 2012 also saw Acapulco assume the mantle of Mexico’s most violent city, even though the murder rate leveled off, while the cities of Monterrey, Torreon, and Nuevo Laredo posted the largest increases in crime related killings.

InSight Crime

While the authorities will probably lay claim to the slowdown in drug violence, it is likely a more influential factor has been changing dynamics in the Mexican underworld, as reflected by the shifting geographical patterns.

Several conflicts that fuelled the escalating violence, such as the all-consuming war for control of Ciudad Juarez between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez cartel, have been resolved in the favor of one side or the other. New territorial disputes, such as the battle for Monterrey between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, have yet to reach the same level of intensity.

If, as suggested by Milenio, murders are not declining but leveling off, it could also be that drug war violence has simply reached a plateau.

Nevertheless, the end to year on year leaps in murder statistics is encouraging and if it continues may even provide the space for new President Enrique Peña Nieto to implement new security policies instead of reacting to an ever deepening crises.