An Argentine police official says neighborhoods using a popular text messaging application to report suspicious activity have been crime-free for 100 days, an innovative strategy for improving citizen security that relies on strong police-community relations.
In March, Police Commissioner Marcelo Guerrero installed a neighborhood watch program in several communities in the southern city of Rio Grande that enable citizens to alert police to suspicious or criminal activity via the text messaging platform WhatsApp. Guerrero -- dubbed by local media the "WhatsApp Commissioner" -- recently told Todo Noticias the six participating neighborhoods have gone over three months without crime. (See video below) These neighborhoods have a total population of nearly 20,000 people, according to Clarin.
Each of the six neighborhoods have their own WhatsApp chat group, and individuals can join the network by presenting documents that verify they live in the community and do not have a criminal record, reported Clarin.
High-level security officials in Tierra del Fuego -- the province where Rio Grande is located -- are analyzing the situation and are considering implementing the program in other police jurisdictions, reported Telam.
InSight Crime Analysis
Guerrero's claims that the new WhatsApp initiative has basically eradicated criminal activity over the past three months may be exaggerated, especially since many crimes committed in Latin America go unreported. Nonetheless, the apparent success of the program is a good example of how police can leverage popular social media platforms to improve citizen security. Unlike other attempts by governments in the region to lower crime via smartphone apps, in this case most users don't have to download a new application; 74 percent of mobile internet users in Argentina already have WhatsApp, according to Statista.
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However, these types of neighborhood watch programs require strong police-community relations. If citizens do not trust police, they are unlikely to report crimes, thus reducing the effectiveness of a security strategy that relies on a high level of cooperation between police and the public. The numerous reports of police corruption and brutality in Argentina suggests that the WhatsApp program could struggle to deliver similar results in other parts of the country.
WhatsApp enjoys widespread popularity throughout much of Latin America, most notably Mexico and Brazil. Unfortunately, the same issues that could prevent the program from being successfully replicated in other areas of Argentina are all too common in both Mexico and Brazil.