Perez Uses Fuzzy Math to Highlight Guatemala’s Dropping Homicides

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President Otto Perez praised an 18 percent drop in Guatemala’s homicides, a figure that doesn’t square with the statistics released by the police. But the overall trend is clear: the murder rate is inching downwards.

Between January 1 and April 30, Guatemala’s murder rate experienced a significant drop compared to the same time period in 2011, Perez said. “This means we have not allowed more than 400 Guatemalans to be killed [last month],” he added.

But at first glance, the president’s numbers don’t add up. According to police statistics, Guatemala registered 1,906 homicides so far in 2012, compared to 1,948 homicides registered during the first four months of 2011. This represents a decrease of just two percent.

Prensa Libre reports that police registered 531 homicides in April, which also contradicts Perez’s claims.

Analyst and blogger Carlos Mendoza, who keeps a tally of murders reported in Guatemala media and by state institutions, similar to the Frontera listserve kept by New Mexico State University librarian Molly Molloy, points out even more contradictions among the current homicide statistics made available. By his count, the National Police have officially reported just 1,589 homicides so far in 2012, which, if correct, would explain why Perez calculated an 18 percent drop from 2011.

Mendoza argues that the tally presented by Prensa Libre cannot be correct because if the police actually reported 531 murders in April, this would be higher than the number of April homicides reported by Guatemala’s forensic institute, INACIF. And since he began tracking Guatemala’s homicide counts in 2009, the forensic institute’s estimates are never higher than the police’s, because the institute counts non-crime related deaths — such as car crashes and suicides — as “homicides,” Mendoza states.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite the contradictory statistics, the overall trend is that Guatemala’s homicide rate is steadily decreasing. Former Interior Minister Carlos Menocal has stated that under former President Alvaro Colom, the murder rate dropped from 46 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008 to about 38 in 2011. His analysis appears to be backed by data released by the National Police, who reported that homicide rates fell in all but eight of the country’s 22 departments last year. Mendoza, using statistics released by the police and the Ministry of Guatemala, has tracked a similar decline in the homicide rate per 100,000 people over the past three years.

The other debate is over which administration — Perez’s or former President Alvaro Colom — can claim credit for these improvements. Much of the data shows that the drop in homicides began under Colom, even though the opposition would frequently criticize him for overseeing a decline in security.

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