Look to Mexican example of crime prevention

A crime prevention program being used in Mexico has reduced rape by 26%, family violence 34%, house burglary 22% and robbery 30%. These results are all the more impressive because the state of Sonora, just south of Arizona, is home to three violent drug cartels, and violent crime is increasing almost everywhere else around that country.

The program was founded by Santiago Roel, and when it was adopted by the state’s governor they announced together that it would decrease the offenses they specified by 25%. In doing this, the program focused upon results or outcomes, which means crime statistics. But it did not measure all crimes, just the ones they specified, and it also measured the areas, days of the week, and even time of day in which those crimes were committed. So in effect they were able to produce a statistical profile of each selected crime.

Next, the program members formed a team with public officials and the police, and shared their findings, after which they implemented the doctrine of “focus, measure and decide.” That means that the team members focused upon only the specified crimes so that they did not misspend their energy, measured the current statistics about just those crimes, and then decided the best approach to take for the prevention of those crimes. Once they reached that point, they only allowed themselves the option of making one of three decisions, which was to go ahead, re-think their conclusions, or ask for more information.

In most jurisdictions, police are trained only to be reactive, which means that they respond to reports of crimes, investigate them, and then locate and help to prosecute the offenders. In other words, those police are “fighting crime.” But with this different approach, the police were trained to think preventively, and then to share the information they received where it would do the most good, which is with the potential victims in the most vulnerable areas.

They then added the media as members of the team, because it’s the best way to share information with potential victims. And when the statistics were published widely by the media in those specific areas for all to see, the potential victims became the final members of the team.

In addition, the media became so interested in receiving so much current and accurate data, they soon started interviewing victims and seeking out their own crime prevention specialists, and publishing additional findings and recommendations.

After the media published the raw statistics for about a month, the manner of publishing was simplified to be much more readable and easily understood. The statistics were published in the form of one traffic light for each crime: red if the crime continued at the same level or greater than when the program began, green if it were reduced by the stated goal of 25% or more, and yellow if it were in between those two levels.

Family violence was the first area to result in a green light because family violence and rape can be decreased extensively with accurate information. For example, about 40% of all rapists are actually family members or “friends.” Once that information was disseminated, potential victims began to see the warning signs for themselves and their family members much earlier and more clearly, and then they naturally took preventive actions.

The most valuable resource in crime prevention is information, and in most cases it has already been compiled. Thus this information is mostly available for free. One of the things the crime information showed them was that about 30% of the automobile thefts were committed in the parking lots of shopping malls. So when this information was published, both mall managers and the police increased security measures at shopping malls, and the drivers of the vehicles took additional preventive measures as well, all of which resulted in the number of automobile thefts being materially reduced.

Actually, people make decisions about crime prevention all the time, so this program simply sought to provide them with more accurate information which, in turn, helped them make more effective decisions. But unfortunately, today’s world often works against providing accurate information. That is true because many public officials tend to hide information unless it contains good news.

In addition, many public officials consider the media to be their enemy when the news is not favorable, so making the media a part of their team is something they do not take to naturally. And finally, most public officials naturally shrink away from publicly setting difficult goals. So publishing a goal of a 25% reduction in specified crimes was not something they would naturally do.

But this program has demonstrably produced a material decrease in crimes, and no one can argue that this is a positive outcome. Without much difficulty, we could implement similar programs in our neighborhoods, and probably experience the same positive results.

You can learn more about Roel’s “Applied Chaos Theory and Complex System Theory” by visiting http://www.prominix.com. And then perhaps you yourself can talk to your mayors, city council members and chiefs of police, because crime reduction is everybody’s business.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)