Mexico’s Failure to Gather Quality Homicide Data Impeding Security Gains

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Mexico’s failure to gather quality data on homicides is preventing the country from developing effective policies to tackle rising violence, a new study found.

The report, developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, concluded that state authorities across Mexico complied on average with just 14.8 of the 43 indicators established by international standards that are needed to obtain quality and useful homicide data.

The states of Nuevo León, Querétaro, Aguascalientes, Baja California and Coahuila scored the highest on the index, while Mexico City, Yucatán, Nayarit, Tabasco and Hidalgo scored the lowest.

However, not one state achieved a score higher than 29 out of the ideal 43, meaning that authorities in Mexico are severely lacking the information needed to fully understand the different types of homicides taking place across the country.

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Violence in Mexico has skyrocketed in recent years, with 2017 being the most homicidal year in the country since official statistics started being kept more than a decade ago. Official figures for the first eight months of 2018 suggest homicides may again break records this year, according to Excelsior.

Authorities in Mexico do not distinguish between homicides committed by criminal organizations and others, which is one of the problems identified in the report. However, independent researchers who crosschecked official figures and media reports estimate the figure could be as high as 75 percent.

InSight Crime Analysis

The report by the Institute for Economics and Peace is right to argue that quality data is key to developing effective policies and practices to tackle rising homicides, and it might also give Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador some clues on how to deal with one of the most pressing issues his administration will face when taking office on December 1.

“The reality is that we cannot solve a problem we can’t understand,” Talia Hagerty, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Economics and Peace, told InSight Crime. “The way you prevent a homicide inside of a family is radically different from the way you prevent violence between two transnational criminal organizations. And the policy implications of knowing the difference are huge.”

The report says that one of the reasons why Mexico scores low on the index is the gap between the number of homicides recorded by the health system and by law enforcement agencies, in addition to state authorities’ failure to document homicides in a consistent way, which prevents the development of national trends.

It also points to the lack of detail in the information recorded by authorities, particularly on key aspects of a crime including location and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, which is critical to establishing the type of violence involved (domestic, political, organized crime, etc).

“In some cases, these issues are the result of a lack of resources while in others it is a matter of corruption and impunity. The key is to get to the bottom of that in order to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it,” Hagerty said.

But the author argues that the solution depends on the state’s willingness to implement common standards to document homicides and independent verification mechanisms.

“The solution is not just to throw money at the problem but to figure out where to invest. The most obvious investment would be to continue to rely on the armed forces, which is not giving the best results. Mexico needs to build capacity in states to be able to document homicides better, for example, by developing independent bodies,” Hagerty said.

“Mexico needs to bring down homicides in the short-term but build up the necessary institutions to ensure positive peace is a reality in the long-term.”

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