Frequently, I meet mayors who tell me, “I’m really concerned about rising crime in my district, but I can’t do anything because the police is run by the national (or state) government.” Here’s three questions (and answers) that I usually ask them, if I think they’re trying to pull a “Pontius Pilate” and wash their hands of the responsibility.
1) What security policy is most recognized by the public in Mexico?
The answer comes from the 2010 National Victimization Survey. In first place is improvement of public lighting (40 percent of respondents). In second place is more patrols on the street (37 percent). And third is maintenace of parks and public spaces (34 percent). That is, public lighting and well-kept parks are as or more important than armed police or military officers equipped with high-tech gear. Mexican neighborhoods also put great value on controlling alcohol consumption on the street: according to that same survey, this is the principle cause of fear of crime in the population.
2) How did the city of Barrancabermeja in Colombia reduce reported incidents of domestic violence by 36 percent between April 2009 to March 2010 (that is, a drop from 1,127 cases to 717)?
Answer: by creating a telephone line called Celos Anónimos (Anonymous Envy). A conversation between a potential abuser with a trained psychologist can help save women’s lives.
3) In terms of insecurity, what difference is there in Washington DC, between blocks with 10 or more bars and night spots, versus those with less than 10?
The police data is revelatory: on average, four times as many crimes are committed on the blocks with 10 or more of these locales, versus those with less than 10. A major way to fight insecurity — especially in expanding cities — is intelligent regulation of urban areas, one that considers the measures and additional costs associated with crime prevention when creating new commerical or entertainment spaces.
In conclusion: there is plenty that mayors can do to help their citizenry feel safer, with or without police under their charge. For these mayors, “washing their hands” of security problems is only acceptable if it’s the step before putting those hands to work.