Despite More Police, Central America Homicides Doubled in a Decade

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Central America’s regional homicide rate nearly doubled between 2000 and 2011 despite an accompanying increase in police numbers during the same period, according to a regional report, demonstrating that more police does not necessarily mean less crime.

Between 2000 and 2011, the homicide rate in Central America rose from 22 per 100,000 inhabitants to 40 per 100,000, according to a report compiled by Costa Rica-based research center State of the Nation Program (Programa Estado de la Nacion). During this same period, police numbers rose from 218 per 100,000 inhabitants to 267 per 100,000.

Of around 168,000 homicides that occurred over the period, 87 percent were committed in the Northern Triangle region — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The report also notes large discrepancies in police numbers between countries. Within the Northern Triangle, Guatemala had just 167 police per 100,000 residents in 2011 and Honduras 176 police per 100,000, while El Salvador had 343 per 100,000.

The report also notes that Central America’s prison population increased 85 percent over the decade (from 44,000 to 82,000), with the largest increase registered in El Salvador.

InSight Crime Analysis

It is no surprise that Central America’s overall increase in homicides can largely be attributed to the Northern Triangle countries — Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, with El Salvador placing second, prior to a gang truce implemented in March 2012. 

One key implication of the report is that putting more police on the streets does not necessarily lead to a reduction in violence. A good example of this is Honduras, where the number of police per 100,000 residents rose by approximately 60 during the period, while the homicide rate jumped from 51 to 86.5 per 100,000. The highly corrupt nature of the country’s police force helps to explain this phenomenon — Honduran police were accused of 149 extrajudicial killings in two years, an alleged 40 percent of the force has organized crime ties, and little progress has been made in an ongoing reform process. In this context, expanding the Honduran police force could simply add more fuel to the fire.

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