There is confusion over how many of El Salvador's murder victims are gang members, showing that an increased understanding of the gang problem is necessary to successful address the country's worsening security situation.
A report recently given by El Salvador's National Police (PNC by its Spanish initials) to local newspaper El Faro said of the more than 2,000 homicide victims registered in El Salvador between January and May, only 30% were gang members.
This contradicts multiple officials from President Salvador Sanchez Ceren's administration, who claimed 60% of El Salvador murder victims belonged to, or were affiliated with, street gangs.
"Approximately 60% of homicides are the result of gang disputes within the country," El Salvador security minister Benito Lara said when speaking to press in June about public security issues. At a following press conference communications secretary Eugenio Chica elaborated "the majority of those killed are linked to gangs and criminals, while 40% are regular citizens."
The PNC did not indicate why their figures on murdered gang members were lower than those cited by central government figures. However it did say that it could revise murder statistics as each case developed. Future revisions are unlikely, El Faro said, as the vast majority of El Salvador's murder cases go unsolved.
InSight Crime Analysis
The conflict between the PNC and the central government's murder victim figures echo previous findings by local newspaper La Prensa Grafica. The newspaper determined that authorities often over report the number of gang-affiliated homicide victims, largely due to poor investigation techniques and a lack of understanding as to what constitutes a gang member.
Part of this has to do with the difficulty in deciding whether to only count fully initiated gang members as part of the group, or to include the large networks of collaborators and affiliates that Mara gangs rely on.
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Scant resources and the desire to write off El Salvador's ever rising murder rates as criminals killing other criminals may discourage authorities from further investigating how gangs interact with the surrounding community. However understanding how the non-initiated work with gangs -willingly or under coercion- is crucial to protecting citizens and improving El Salvador's dire public security situation.