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Bolivia Maps Gang Presence

BOLIVIA / 12 APR 2016 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

Security officials in Bolivia have created a database of where the country's gangs operate as part of a broader push to reduce crime and violence in the Andean nation.

On April 11, Interior Minister Carlos Romero announced at the Sixth Summit on Citizen Security in La Paz that the police had mapped the locations of the country's gangs, reported La Razón. According to the police, 269 gangs are active in Bolivia, with the highest concentration in the cities of Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba. (See InSight Crime map below)

Santa Cruz is home to 60 gangs and nearly 2,500 gang members, while in La Paz there are 48 gangs totaling 1,645 members. In Cochabamba, the police have identified 44 gangs that count 1,476 members between them. The police report shows there are 7,731 active gang members nationwide.

Romero said the mapping was done in order to help authorities decide where to redistribute police forces and install security cameras. 

During the summit President Evo Morales announced $105 million would be earmarked for modernizing the country's police force so that it could better combat crime. 

Also on April 11, Romero presented to Bolivia's Legislative Assembly a bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 14, reported La Razón. Romero said the bill is intended to reduce violence among youths involved in gang activity. 

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InSight Crime Analysis

Mapping where gangs operate and modernizing the police force are commonsense security measures, but there is no guarantee these steps will lead to a significant reduction in crime rates. This is because it's not clear to what extent gangs are responsible for crime and violence in the first place, and Bolivia already boasts much lower homicide levels than many other countries in Latin America.

The bigger security threat in Bolivia is believed to be the growth of the transnational drug trade, and the presence of foreign criminal groups that are looking to take advantage of the Andean nation's strategic position as both drug producer and transshipment point. The government's new measures may increase pressure on the low-level criminal gangs, but it appears they will leave the more organized criminal structures largely untouched. 

SEE ALSO: Evo's Challenge: Bolivia the Drug Hub

As for the proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility, it create the risk of incentivizing gangs to enlist even younger recruits. Children would also be exposed to the criminal justice system at a younger age, burdening them with a social stigma and increasing their odds of engaging in future delinquency. 

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