The government of Mexico’s declarations of a dramatic reduction in homicides linked to organized crime does not correspond with the figures produced by the National System of Public Security. Someone is counting poorly.
But, good, homicides have diminished. That is what the government brags about with the least provocation. On February 21, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong affirmed that, at the end of the previous administration, “there occurred between 1,400 and 1,700 deaths due to organized crime; the month of January had 567, a thousand less. That 567 is terrible, but a thousand less; this speaks to highlight the reduction of violence.”
For his part, Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, recently named National Commissioner of Security, said last week “intentional homicides have decreased by 16.1 percent” (supposedly referring to 2013).
And yes, in effect, official statistics show a significant reduction in the number of prior inquiries for intentional homicide during the current federal administration. In November of 2012, the last month of the government of Felipe Calderon, an average of 56 intentional homicides were registered per day. One year later, in November 2013, the daily volume was an average of 47 and, for February of this year, the statistic had fallen to 45. Almost 20 percent less in barely 15 months, not an insignificant amount.
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However, something about this presumed success story does not fit. Consider the following:
- The drop occurred in two steps, not in a sustained drop. In December 2012, an average of 56 intentional homicides were registered per day. One month later, in January 2013, the daily average was 49, a level that was maintained more or less consistently (with a spike in April) until May, where it resumed falling. In other words, a good part of the reduction was registered after the current administration had barely taken office. The explanation? A registration problem, which resulted in a revision of the increase in the following months. That, or the strategy of the government, very quickly struck a wall of decreasing marginal returns.
- The Executive Secretary of the National System of Public Security broke down the statistics of intentional homicides by the type of weapon. The result is that homicides with firearms have practically not decreased in the past year. In January 2013, an average of 26.1 were registered per day; in February 2013, 26.1 again. No improvement in thirteen months.
- The homicides that declined were those committed with weapons or methods other than pistols, guns, or rifles. And not murders with knives: these have increased in the last year. The fall was concentrated in those classified as “other”: deaths by stoning, beating, clubs, chairs or candelabra, by use of fists, by intentional poisoning, strangling with rope or suffocation with a pillow, thrown from the top of a building or cliff. These are the murders that diminished, those of diverse methods. Those, and the ones classified as “without data.”
How do these statistics fit with the narrative of the government about a radical reduction in homicides linked to organized crime: the thousand homicides less espoused by Secretary Osorio? To put it simply, they don’t match. A basic criteria (not the only, but the most relevant without a doubt) to classify a homicide as “linked to organized crime” was the use of firearms of a high caliber. Therefore, if the “linked” homicides fell spectacularly, but homicides with firearms stayed constant, does this signify that they registered an explosion of homicides committed with a .22 caliber pistol and shooting scope? Or would it maybe be that someone is counting poorly? Good moment to apply Occam’s razor.
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The numbers associated with the government’s explanation about the reduction of violent homicides also do not fit. If with better coordination (or better intelligence), there are fewer murders, why is there not some effect in the obvious subset? Would it not be probable that improved results by law enforcement would reflect more on organized crime violence than in daily violence trends? Why is the government strategy incapable of preventing homicides with firearms, but incredibly efficient at stopping people that kill with fists or clubs?
In summary, we do not know (and neither does the government) what is actually happening. Maybe homicides have fallen, but within the subcategory most unexpected. Is there less violence? Could be. What is the cause? Heaven only knows.
Something does not sit right within this story.
P.S. In the last meeting of the National Council of Public Security, it was agreed that from March 2014, the Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security would present in their monthly reports not only the number of previous inquiries, but also the number of homicide victims, kidnapping, and extortion. The agreement was completed this month. The concept should be applauded, but the execution is faulty. What genius thought of adding together the victims of intentional and culpable homicide, and presenting the figure that way, without breaking it down? The number they gave was more confusing than illuminating. Hopefully they’ll rectify it.
Translated and reprinted with permission from Plata o Plomo, Alejandro Hope’s blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime’s Board of Directors.