Security Surge in Colombia Unlikely to Produce Lasting Results

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Colombia plans to launch a new security initiative targeting over 100 criminal groups operating in major cities, but the temporary police surge is unlikely to have a lasting impact on urban crime.

Earlier this week, President Juan Manuel Santos announced a 90-day security surge in eleven Colombian cities designed to combat homicide, extortion, micro-trafficking, robbery, contraband, and illegal mining, reported El Pais.

The plan involves deploying more police officers to areas of the target cities with high incidences of crime. One thousand police officers currently in administrative positions will be sent out to patrol the streets, reported El Tiempo. Security forces will also target 102 criminal groups identified as the country’s most dangerous, which police have been tasked with dismantling by January 20, 2015. In addition, security operations will be reinforced by helicopters manned by anti-drug police, who will provide both surveillance and support for those on the ground.

Security experts consulted by El Pais expressed skepticism about the plan. One expert told the newspaper he feared crime rates would return to normal once the security surge ends in January, as has happened with similar security initiatives in the past. Similarly, Rodolfo Escobero from the NGO Ideas Para la Paz told El Pais these types of interventions tend to improve a city’s image without making any fundamental changes.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although the 90-day security plan may temporarily reduce urban crime, it is unlikely to result in a lasting change in criminal dynamics. Once the extra police return to their desk jobs at the end of January, criminal groups will likely go back to their current activities. In addition, the goal of dismantling 102 criminal groups in three months seems overly ambitious and may end up producing fewer results than a strategy prioritizing only the most dangerous of these groups.

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Given these shortcomings, the initiative seems designed more to reduce the perception of insecurity than create lasting security gains. Santos has been attacked by opponents for what some see as a worsening security situation, and according to the 2012 Citizen Security Survey conducted by the government statistic agency DANE (pdf), over 60 percent of respondents felt their city was unsafe.

The initiative might be more successful if combined with citizen security measures and social programs. In Cali, for example, authorities have attributed a recent reduction in homicides to a combination of increased security force presence, a disarmament campaign, and social programs for youth from vulnerable areas. Disarmament programs have also proven successful in Bogota and Medellin.  

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