Despite Bloody Headlines, Figures Suggest Violence is Falling in Mexico

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Analyst Alejandro Hope explains that with statistics now in for August, violence levels in Mexico appear to be continuing their downward trend, despite fears that a series of high-profile incidents in recent weeks indicated a new spike in violence.

One month ago I wrote the following:

In the past week, violence has again seized the headlines: from a shooting in Iztapalapa to the murder of a mayor, to the discovery of 14 bodies in San Luis Potosi, high impact incidents appear to have no end (In El Pais, Salvador Camarena offers a good summary of these bloody days).

How to interpret this chain of bad news? Does this mean we are facing a new escalation of violence, after the relative improvement of the beginning of the year? Short answer: we still don’t know.

Well, now we know more. The Secretary General of National Public Safety (SESNSP) released figures on August’s crime rate that tell us the following:

1) August was a violent month, the second deadliest of the year. However, the number of preliminary investigations for murder (1,828, not including the state of Zacatecas who is still to submit its figures, meaning the total will be roughly 1,840-1,850) was 6 percent less than in August last year. It was the eighth consecutive month that figures declined on-year (see graph, below).      

homicidio-2012-crecimiento

2) Using a three-month moving average (which serves to: a. smooth the series, and b. more easily identify inflection points on the graph) you can see that there was a slight fall in July and August (see graph, below) following four consecutive months of a rise.

homicidios-promedio-móvil

3) The cumulative total of intentional homicides for the January to August period is 8.2 percent less than the total for the same period in 2011 (equivalent to 1,300 fewer homicides than last year). It’s the first fall for a similar period since 2007, as the graph below shows.

homicidio-acumulado-enero-agosto1

4) Some states did register a notable rise in violence levels in August compared to the previous month. Standing out in this category are Nuevo Leon (an 89 percent rise compared to July), Michoacan (+39 percent), Coahuila (+22 percent) and Mexico’s Federal District (+21 percent). In contrast, significant falls in violence were reported in Baja California (-27.5 percent), Morelos (-22 percent) and Sinaloa (-21 percent). I’m still very concerned with the case of Guanajuato: in the three-month moving average for the state (see graph, below), August homicide levels were 2.5 times higher than those at the start of the year, and last month’s levels made Guanajuato the fifth most violent state in the country (in January, it was 19th).

Guanajuato2

5) There is one statistic that caught my attention: in August, the number of preliminary investigations into violent car-thefts was less than 5,000, for the third consecutive month. It’s the first time that this phenomenon has occurred since the start of 2010. Also, from January to August, there was a 13 percent fall compared to the same period in 2011. This is relevant because it shows there is a strong correlation between this crime and intentional homicides (see graph, below). In this sense, fewer violent car-thefts suggests that the trend in the number of homicides is something more than just noise.

robo-vehículos1

In sum, contrary to what the media anticipated, there is no evidence of a significant rise in violence during the summer (beyond the seasonal effects I discussed). We are continuing on a path of a gradual reduction in violence from very high levels. That’s to say, we are in a bad place, but the situation is not worsening (it’s always important to remember the difference between the level and the trend) and that is no minor detail.

Note 1: As always, previous data should always be interpreted exclusively as trend indicators. It’s highly probable that there is under-registration of all crimes (including homicide), but there is good evidence that the error is more or less systematic. Official information tells us, therefore, where we are going, but not exactly where we are.

Note 2: The Sesnsp registers preliminary investigations, not victims. These investigations may include two or more victims (see this article for more details). A database is being developed that provides information on the number of investigations and the number of victims: let’s hope it’s released soon. That said, I suspect that the fall in terms of victim numbers is more pronounced than the fall in the number of preliminary investigations. In 2011 there was the San Fernando massacre, the Durango mass graves and the Casino Royale attack in Monterrey. We’ve seen many horrors this year, but so far nothing on that scale.

*Translated and reprinted with permission from Alejandro Hope, of Plata o Plomo, a blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here.

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