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COLOMBIA : Are Innovative Security Strategies Behind Drop in Cali Homicides?

Written by Kyra Gurney
Tuesday, 08 July 2014


Weapons seized as part of Cali's disarmament program

Authorities in Cali, Colombia have attributed a decrease in homicides to a combination of citizen security measures and increased presence of security forces, highlighting effective strategies that seem to have helped reduce violence in a city plagued by fighting among rival criminal groups.

According to local government figures, between January and June this year homicides in Cali have decreased by almost 27 percent in comparison to the same period in 2013.

 Local government officials have attributed the reduction to several security strategies implemented in 2013, including a disarmament campaign, curfews in some districts of the city (known as comunas), military patrols, and programs for youth from vulnerable areas, reported El Pais.

A national police unit dedicated to investigating the heads of criminal groups, known as Unipol, has also been credited with helping to reduce violence.

Several of the security programs were implemented in November 2013, the same month homicides started to fall, reported Entorno Inteligente. Security strategies implemented in the three comunas with the greatest number of homicides in 2013 have been credited with making these districts among the ten that have seen the greatest reduction in murders this year. 

According to Government Secretary Carlos Jose Holguin, the number of homicides registered between January and June 2014 is the lowest of any six-month period over the last six years.

InSight Crime Analysis

The criminal war for control of Cali, which is waged by street gangs and criminal structures known as "oficinas de cobro" (collection offices) on behalf of larger criminal organizations such as the Rastrojos and the Urabeños, has seen Cali claim the mantle of the most violent city in Colombia.

Although leaders from the Urabeños and the Rastrojos reportedly came to an agreement to halt hostilities in December 2013, it is unlikely the pact has had a major impact on homicide rates. Unlike in Medellin, where an agreement between the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado led to a significant decrease in murders, the criminal landscape in Cali is more fractured; dissident factions of the Rastrojos played no part in the pact and there are other major criminal actors also fighting for territory. 

The recent decline in violence offers preliminary evidence that security strategies implemented in Cali have been relatively successful. Rather than focus purely on increasing the security forces presence, the authorities have combined this hard power with soft power programs aimed at keeping youth away from crime, which should have a more long-term impact, and tried and tested initiatives such as the disarmament program, which has proven successful in Medellin and Bogota.

However, challenges remain, especially in the judicial process -- the impunity rate for murder in Cali still stands at around 80 percent, according to local officials

In addition,the long term efficacy of the policies cannot be properly judged until the security forces surge is over, and policing levels return to long term levels.

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