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Latin American and Caribbean countries commit to standardize crime and violence statistics

An IDB-financed project will help the region improve and harmonize information on citizen security

CALI, Colombia – Fifteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean today confirmed their participation in a path breaking project to unify and share indicators on crime and violence at a citizen security conference held in this city. In addition, Bolivia, Guatemala and Panama expressed their intention to join the regional initiative.

The two-day event, organized by the Municipality of Cali and the project’s coordinator, the Cisalva Institute of the Universidad del Valle, brought together specialists and government officials. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos addressed the participants.

The Regional System of Standardized Indicators for Citizen Security and Violence Prevention (SES), which has received IDB grant funding for $2.5 million since 2008, enables Latin American and Caribbean governments to receive timely, reliable, and comparable data for designing and evaluating public security policies and programs.

Before the project, there were no uniform criteria or methodologies on how such data are collected and processed, both among countries and among national institutions, such as the police, prosecutors, or the ministries of public health.This lack of standards resulted in varying population estimates and different interpretations of crimes referred to by the same names, among other complications.

To date, the SES has produced agreements on 22 indicators based on information from more than 140 public institutions in 15 countries and two major cities in the region. The system receives official inputs from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, as well as from the Municipality of Quito and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. SES data are available at www.seguridadyregion.com.

SES’s progress and achievements have resulted in an expansion in its membership from its initial six participants. It is expected that 80 percent of the countries of the region will be basing their statistics on SES’s unified parameters by the end of next year. At the same time, the Organization of American States, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Central American Integration System are supporting SES as strategic partners.

In most countries in the region, governments lack reliable information on security, which makes it difficult to formulate, carry out, and evaluate public policies, says Jorge Srur, IDB senior specialist in modernization of the state.

"In our countries, public security is an issue that is literally handled in the dark," said Srur. "Relevant and accurate information is critical for designing policies that can help reduce violence and ensure safety."

Each of the countries participating in the SES has created technical units that validate regional indicators. This makes it possible to compare rates of homicides and kidnappings, deaths from firearm and traffic injuries, suicides, allegations of sexual offenses, domestic violence, and child and adolescent abuse. There are additional data on driving while intoxicated and the prevalence of sexual violence.

Praising the SES as an innovative and useful tool, Cali Mayor Rodrigo Guerrero said other regions and international organizations are studying the new information system.

"This is a tool that can be exported and become a model for other countries," said Guerrero."If we don’t have accurate information we can’t take action to solve problems.The development of indicators points to the causes of the problems, enabling us to develop cures and provide greater security in our cities."