Conflicting Crime Stats Call Mexico Security Narrative into Question

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Mexico’s National Citizen Observatory has identified major discrepancies in crime figures reported by the country’s two official statistics sources, casting doubt on the validity of current data pointing to a large drop in homicides.

After analyzing 2013 data reported by Mexico’s statistical agency (INEGI) and the Secretary General of National Public Safety (SESNSP), the National Citizen Observatory (ONC) found large differences that it said indicated state prosecutor’s offices were using inconsistent systems to collect and compile information on crimes (pdf).

In some cases, the information reported by INEGI and the SESNSP showed contradictory crime trends in the same state. In Puebla, for example, INEGI reported a 17 percent increase in homicides between 2012 and 2013, whereas SESNSP figures showed a nearly 26 percent decrease in the state over the same period.

“We don’t have reliable information to produce a diagnostic of the violence in our country,” ONC Director Francisco Rivas stated.

InSight Crime Analysis

President Enrique Peña Nieto has worked to highlight Mexico’s security successes, recently claiming the murder rate during the first six months of 2014 had dropped 27 percent from the same period in 2012. It remains unclear where he sourced his information from, and the ONC report now raises the question of how reliable that source’s figures may have been.

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While the ONC attributes the differences between INEGI and SESNSP figures to variations in methodology, it is possible political calculations are also part of the equation. All too often, crime statistics are manipulated by governments, who want to control information to fit the security narrative they wish to present. Venezuela has a particular reputation for doctoring its homicide figures and Honduras’ recent claims of dropping murders followed a drastic change in the way homicides were officially counted. For these reasons, as well as faulty methodologies, crime statistics generally need to be viewed critically.

Regardless of how much Mexico’s homicide rate has or has not actually decreased, Peña Nieto appears to be losing the statistical battle when it comes to his own approval ratings. May polls showed that around half of the population disapproved of the president (pdf). What’s more, the Mexican public appears to have a generally worsening perception of security, which may be linked to the fact that while murders have apparently dropped, crimes like kidnapping have continued to rise. 

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