HomeNewsAnalysisDon’t Get Confused About Mexico’s Death Count
ANALYSIS

Don’t Get Confused About Mexico’s Death Count

HOMICIDES / 14 FEB 2013 BY ALEJANDRO HOPE* EN

And so, how is Mexico doing? Is the violence rising or falling under the current administration? We don’t know, and we won’t know for a number of months.

1. And we begin again with the dispute over the homicide figures. Last week, Milenio stated that in January, 957 killings were registered in the whole country, a total of 1,939 in the first two months of the current six-year term. By Reforma’s count, January saw 769 homicides linked to organized crime, which places the total at 1,524 in the first two months of Peña Nieto’s government. For its part, La Jornada published some mysterious data, obtained from “federal employees that worked in the national security cabinet,” according to which 1,758 people would have been killed in incidents related “to disputes between criminal groups” or in “confrontations.”

2. Which of these numbers are correct? None. According to the Secretary General of National Public Safety (SESNSP), 1,569 previous confirmations of intentional homicide were registered in December. It is highly probable that January’s number will be similar, giving an approximate total of 3,200 intentional homicides in the first two months of the current administration (we will know the precise figure in a couple of weeks when SESNSP releases January’s information).

3. And how many of those 3,200 are linked to organized crime? Nobody knows and those who say they know, don’t. The independent murder counts (and the official count used until a few months ago) are constructed based on inferences: they use some characteristics of the incidents or of the victims (presumed use of a firearm, messages next to the corpse, etc.) in order to suppose that a homicide could have been connected with something vague called “organized crime.” But they are no more than that – assumptions not validated by judicial investigations which could allow the motives behind the homicides to be explained.

4. Are 3,200 homicides committed during the first two months of the current government many or few? Well, it depends what you are comparing it against: compared to the 1,799 homicides that were committed in the first two months of the government of Felipe Calderon, they are a lot. Compared to the 3,354 that were committed in December 2011 and January 2012, they represent a slight reduction (of approximately -4.5 percent). Against the peak numbers (the 4,128 registered in the period May-June 2011), they signify a drop of 22 percent (although this comparison is somewhat deceptive – see the following point).

5. But did the violence increase in December compared to November, or not? Well yes, but those types of month-to-month comparisons, crude and without any adjustments, are absurd: a) there are calendar effects that complicate the comparisons (December has more days than November, for example, b) there are seasonal effects (there are more homicides in summer than in winter and in December, the count rises as an effect of year-end festivities), and c) a few situational occurrences can shift the totals without causing changes in the underlying trend.

6. And so, how are we doing? Is violence rising or falling in the current administration? We don’t know and we won’t know for a number of months. Until December, it was decreasing: in 2012, the number of intentional homicides dropped 8.5 percent compared to the year before, the first decrease at an annual rate since 2007. If one takes a mobile average of three months, in December it reached the lowest level since April 2010. Will this trend continue in 2013? No idea: I’ll tell you when I have the figures.

7. But in some regions the situation is getting worse, isn’t it? Yes, but in others it is getting better: there is Ciudad Juarez, but likewise, there is the case of Nuevo Leon: in the fourth trimester, the number of intentional homicides decreased 48 percent with respect to the same period in 2011. In general, there are more examples of improvement than deterioration: in 2012, the number of intentional homicides decreased in 20 of 32 federal entities.

8. But what about the killing sprees? Aren’t the case of Kombo Kolombia or the cascade of multiple homicides in the State of Mexico signs of an imminent explosion in the levels of violence? No: to use the terminology of Nate Silver, that is noise, not a signal. As spectacular and perturbing as they are, the massacres do not define the overall state of criminal violence in the country. Incidents involving ten or more victims are counted at a few tens each year: the grand majority of homicides have only one victim (or two at the most).

9. And what then? What do we do as more data appears? Demand the government to publish the information as quickly as possible: it is the least that can be asked of an administration that has made the reduction of violence the principal objective of its security policy.

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. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime’s Board of Directors.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 7 FEB 2019

A new report says that some of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations are overseeing loan sharking schemes headed by Colombian…

HEROIN / 9 DEC 2016

Top executives of a US pharmaceutical company have been arrested for allegedly scheming to overprescribe the highly addictive opiate fentanyl,…

KNIGHTS TEMPLAR / 29 MAY 2012

Mexico's authorities blamed the Caballeros Templarios gang for several attacks against Sabritas, a PepsiCo subsidiary, in what may be one…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…