Opinion: How to improve domestic security in Mexico

Mexico’s economy could provide the resources to improve security and increase peace.

Mexico suffers from some of the highest rates of violence in the world, outside of a formal war zone, and last year the country reached its highest recorded homicide rate, at more than 27 deaths per 100,000 people. The country also boasts the 15th largest economy in the world, an unusual position for a country facing pervasive violent crime. However, Mexico’s economic success contradicts one of the country’s chief barriers to sustainably reducing violence – the weak capacity of its security forces.

According to the recently released Mexico Peace Index, the median number of state public security officials in 2017 was 110 per 100,000 – representing rates that are far too low for a country with such high levels of violence. Baja California, Mexico’s least peaceful state, as ranked by the index, only has 21 public security officials per 100,000 people. This is less than one tenth of the global average.

While a simple solution would be to increase the number of public security officials, sustainable public security requires a more fine-tuned solution. Mexico City, for example, has an average of 975 public security officials per 100,000, and still struggles with high levels of violent crime and homicide. The cost of maintaining an overly robust security force can outweigh its effectiveness.

IEP research has found that policing is most effective where the public perceives a high level of legitimacy in law enforcement and justice processes. In Mexico, low rates of officers and high levels of corruption have weakened public trust in the police. In 2017, two thirds of Mexicans believed that the police participated in organised crime related activities, and concern about impunity rose 14 per cent from 2012 to 2018.

More effective training policies, multi-sectoral coordination and increased capacity of public security forces could improve trust between the police and the public and help reverse the trend of violence. Nationwide, only 62 per cent of state-level public security employees have received full training as of 2014, according to the latest government data. This deficiency in training impacts the capacity of police forces to manage corruption and infiltration attempts by cartel members. Increased, targeted, and sustained training could deter corrupt practices and enhance community relations.

Public trust could also be increased with detailed and reliable data analysis. Mexico already possesses high data collection capacity, and this can be leveraged to increase policing effectiveness. High-quality data allows for the development of evidence-based policy, which can improve the effectiveness of implemented techniques, although it requires thorough data analysis. This encourages collaboration between the government and civil society, as think tanks and universities are specialised in this analysis. Collaboration between the two sectors can help build strong and transparent institutions, which are seen as more legitimate by the general population.

Increased capacity and training would be strengthened with fair remuneration and effective vetting. In 2017, police officers were payed 9,933 pesos (about US$500) on average, which is just over the national average wage, and are not always given legally mandated benefits. Providing consistent and competitive compensation could deter officers from accepting bribes to supplement income, and thorough review of security forces on a timely basis could catch corruption before it multiplies.

Shifting policing in Mexico from an enforcement to a preventative-based ethos could also be key to making police officers not only more effective in deterring violence, but also social leaders in their communities. Instead of apprehending and detaining criminals after a crime occurs, community-based preventive measures actively engage the community at-large to prevent offences.

Community engagement is highly important in increasing the chance of long-term effectiveness in policy. At the community level, policy frameworks can utilise the strengths already present, instead of solely focusing on the weaknesses. Solution-oriented, rather than problem-driven, action can have a more lasting impact. Additionally, effective engagement incentivises at-risk groups to stay away from illicit behaviour, as well as building trust between the community and public security officials. Effective community-oriented approaches look to work with those at risk of entering a cycle of offending and look for appropriate interventions through cross-sector and inter-agency collaboration.

The opinions expressed throughout this article are the opinions of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vision of Humanity or the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Delanie Smither

Research Assistant

Delanie Smither studies international affairs and political science with a concentration in security studies at Northeastern University. Delanie has previously worked at the Global Resilience Institute, where she researched sustainable infrastructure, disaster resilience and risk reduction. As a research assistant at the Institute for Economics and Peace, Delanie contributed to the 2019 Mexico Peace Index.

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