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JDI Latin America and Caribbean Unit


Supporting research on crime and citizen security, and the professional development of policing in the LAC region.


Archive for the 'Research' Category

Why government effectiveness and corruption may contribute to the high levels of homicide in Latin America

By José Luis Hernández-Ramírez and Catalina I Mellado Neely, on 5 August 2021

In this post the PhD students Catalina Mellado and José Luis Hernández elaborate a critic to the article of Chainey, Croci & Rodriguez-Forero (2021) related with a potential relation between Homicides and effectivienes of Latin America Governments to provide services and avoid the corruption.


  • Research linking homicide rates and social/economic structural variables show inconsistent (and limited) explanatory power in Latin America
  • Ineffectiveness of governments generates conditions where criminals can operate easily and prosper
  • Poor control of corruption seems related with an increase of homicides levels in Latin America
  • Further research should explore how the functioning of government institutions can affect crime in the region

In their recent article, Chainey, Croci & Rodriguez-Forero (2021) discuss how the high levels of violent crime in the Latin American (LatAm) region are influenced by the ineffectiveness of government institutions. They argue that the ineffectiveness of government institutions, further undermined by corruption, affect society’s perception of government legitimacy, and how in turn it has an effect on violent crime. The authors, claim that traditional approaches that consider that crime and violence are symptoms of early stages of a country’s development are not sufficient for explaining the persistently high homicide rates in LatAm, and do not fully grasp the particular characteristics of the region.

A large body of research examines the link between variations in homicide trends in LatAm with economic and socio structural variables (i.e., inequality, poverty, unemployment, GDP per capita, among others) (Bergman, 2018; Oberwittler, 2019; Vilalta, 2021). However, on review, these studies have not been conclusive in explaining the high levels of homicides in the region. Furthermore, increases in homicides have been observed, on most LatAm countries, with improvements in economic and social development.

In this article, Chainey et al. (2021), review this issue, seeking explanation to these trends addressing the question: What is the effect of government effectiveness and corruption on the high levels of homicides in the LatAm region? To answer this, they draw from research that has begun to examine the influence that government institutions can have on crime levels within a country and perform a cross-sectional statistical analysis that explores variations in homicide in relation to indicators of government effectiveness and corruption.

As part of their novel approach and based on their findings, Chainey et al suggest some theoretical principles that explain how the levels of homicide are related to the effectiveness of governments. The authors state that when government institutions don’t allocate efficiently and effectively resources towards citizen security, they fail to prevent crime and create a void in which criminal activity can thrive.

The failure to deliver sufficient resources for preventing crime in LatAm countries includes the lack of justice and protection of fundamental rights, as well as the poor provision of public security and capacity to generate professional police agencies. This has created areas within LatAm countries where the presence of the government (at local and federal level) is weak or non-existent, which in turn can create an environment that allows criminal activities to develop.

Chainey et al. describe the failure in provide services as an institutional organizational theoretical concept relating to citizen security, and in particular with homicide. They state that “the appropriate use of power and the adequate allocation of public resources in society provide a fundamental basis for the provision of citizen security. When governments fail to allocate sufficient resources to the public institutions responsible for social control and physical infrastructure, and fail to invest in the formation, development, maintenance, and functionality of these public entities, their effectiveness in providing citizen security is hindered. In a public service provision system where corruption is present, particularly in relation to law enforcement and the judicial system, this can lead to high levels of a perceived lack of justice and the legitimization of violence. … [How] institutions operate and how effective they are in the provision of citizen security can influence the homicide levels that are observed”. According to Arias (2016), this can also even create parallel polities, where the voids left by governments are filled by criminal groups that take on the role of the government and supply basic services.

The reasoning that the authors present is innovative in explaining the relationship between the level of homicides and government effectiveness because their findings show the particular significant influence of this factor in LatAm. This contrasts with most research to date because this influence of the effectiveness of government institutions has been included in few studies for examining the high levels of violence in the LatAm region.

Authors point out that their statistical cross-sectional analysis was modest, but that it does offer valuable new insights that can be built upon. This includes improving the statistical analysis by increasing the sample of data that are examined by analysing the evolution of homicide levels over time and its relationship with government effectiveness and homicide.

Within this theoretical framework, and through empirical analysis, the paper concludes by stating that in the LatAm region, where government effectiveness is low and corruption is high, homicide rates are high. It further concludes that to better understand how the levels of homicides in the region are influenced by government effectiveness and corruption, future research should also examine the relationship between homicide and the rule of law, impunity and government legitimacy, corruption.

This article highlights the complex and multidimensional character of homicides. Although variables such as social inequality have an important role to play in explaining variations in homicide levels. institutional factors also appear to influence the high homicides levels that are present in the LatAm region.


The article of Chainey, Croci & Rodriguez-Forero could be consulted at: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-0760/10/5/172 

For more information about the Authors check their personal webs:

Spencer Chainey

Gonzalo Croci

Laura Rodríguez-Forero

Crime and Covid-19: Effect of changes in routine activities in Mexico City

By Patricio R Estévez-Soto, on 27 May 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has thus far infected 5.6 million people and caused an excess of 350 thousand deaths worldwide. Latin America and the Caribbean are particularly likely to be affected by this crisis. On the one hand, the World Health Organisation said that the Americas have become the new centre of the pandemic, as cases and deaths have surged in the region, overtaking daily infections in Europe and the United States. In addition, the pandemic is also likely to wreak havoc in the economy and stability of LAC countries. The United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that the pandemic “will cause the greatest economic contraction ever” in Latin America and the Caribbean, causing unemployment to rise to 38 million in the LAC region, and poverty to increase by 4.5 percentage points. It is estimated that the pandemic will drive 30 million people into poverty across the LAC region.

The devastating effects of the pandemic across the economy and society are likely to have long term consequences on crime and security across the LAC region. While there has been some discussion on the potential effects of covid-19 on criminal governance, illicit markets, and the strength of organised crime, there has thus far been little discussion of the short term effects on crime patterns.

One of the most visible effects of the pandemic on daily life has been a drastic and sudden reduction in personal mobility across the world. As reducing person-to-person contact is one of the most effective means to slow the transmission of the disease, by April 3rd, around 3.9 billion people─around half of the world’s population─had been under covid-19 related lockdowns. Though Mexico was slow to enact covid-19 lockdowns, and even allowed massive concerts in Mexico City to go ahead during the early days of the pandemic, the government issued a nationwide lockdown in March 23. While in Mexico City many people have continued to work in public places defying the lockdown, data released by the city’s mobility secretary suggests a substantial decline in overall mobility. For example, the tweet embedded below shows the reduction in mobility by comparing trips between bike-sharing stations in early March vs late April. Data on the volume of vehicular traffic suggests a similar decline consistent with the covid-19 lockdown.

It is very likely that such drastic reductions in mobility could have substantive effects in the incidence of crime during the lockdown. This is because the patterns of crime we typically observe in a city don’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, they are a function of a city’s routine activities and rhythms of daily life (work, school, leisure, etc.), as these determine the rate at which criminal opportunities occur (i.e., how often  a motivated offender and a suitable target converge in the absence of a capable guardian). As Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson identified in their seminal paper, when changes in routine activities affect the rate at which such criminal opportunities occur, it is likely that the incidence of crime will change. In the case of the covid-19 lockdown, this would suggest that crimes that take place in public (such as street robbery) would likely see reductions (because there are fewer people on the streets), while crimes that take place in private (such as domestic violence) may increase (as people are under lockdown, victims of domestic violence are more likely to be trapped with their abusers).

An early study conducted by my colleague, Matt Ashby, examined the effect of covid-19 on crime trends in 16 large cities in the United States. Matt’s study used a type of time series modelling technique called seasonal auto-regressive integrated moving average (SARIMA) to forecast the amount of crime that would be expected during the early months of 2020 and compared those forecasts with the trends actually observed since the pandemic in the US began. The study found:

no significant changes in the frequency of serious assaults either in public or in residences (contrary to concerns among practitioners and policy makers), reductions in residential burglary in some (but not all) cities, little change in non-residential burglary (except in Minneapolis), decreases in thefts from vehicles in some cities, and diverging patterns of thefts of vehicles. It is noteworthy, however, that in no case were the patterns the same across all the cities under study (Ashby 2020, p 15).

The somewhat modest effects of the pandemic on crime in these US cities could be explained by several factors. First, the study was conducted very early in the course of the pandemic, so it is possible that the full effects of the lockdowns could not be observed yet. It is quite possible that the effects of the pandemic on crime may take longer to become evident. On the other hand, crime in the US (and in the western world in general) has seen a consistent crime drop over the last few decades, mostly due to the improvement of security. Thus, it is possible that small reductions may be lost in the noise expected in longitudinal crime patterns. As an example of the later point, consider that the lower bound of the confidence intervals around the SARIMA forecasts for some cities are at or near 0, meaning that even if a week had no crime during the pandemic, this would be within the expected range of variation. Lastly, as the study examined city-wide temporal patterns of crime, it did not explicitly took into account how much routine activities actually changed during the pandemic, nor how they may have changed within specific cities.

To address some of these shortcomings, I’ve started a research project to examine the effect of the covid-19-related changes in routine activities on crime patterns in Mexico City. Mexico City represents an excellent opportunity to study the effect of covid-19 lockdowns on crime, as the city has an excellent open data initiative that regularly publishes incident-level crime data, as well as a data on urban mobility that can be reliably used to estimate changes in routine activities. Furthermore, there are few studies on crime patterns from an environmental criminology perspective outside of the English-speaking world, thus the study could advance the field by examining the relationship between routine activities and crime in a new setting.

Details of the study can be found in the project website at the Open Science Foundation. In a nutshell, I will first identify a suitable proxy measure to estimate the amount of activity outside homes (such as public transit passenger numbers, mobility apps trip queries, or amount of air pollution) before and after the social distancing restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 epidemic. Then, I will examine if spatio-temporal crime patterns are associated with those of the proxy measures of routine activities. I plan on conducting city-wide analyses similar to those that Matt carried out, though I will also look at how crime patterns within the city may have changed in response to changes in mobility. For example, it may be particularly telling if crime decreases near public transit stations are correlated with changes in the amount of passengers that are using those stations.

At this moment, the project is still in the planning phase. Data collection will begin by mid summer as data for May and June are published. It is expected that a first draft of the study will be completed by the end of the summer. For more information on this study, visit the project website or chat with me on twitter.

Ashby, M. P. J. (2020). Initial evidence on the relationship between the coronavirus pandemic and crime in the United States. Crime Science, 9(1), 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-020-00117-6

Dr Patricio R Estévez-Soto is a Teaching Fellow for Latin America and the Caribbean at the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science.

The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the JDI LAC Unit.