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IDB studies reveal the social costs of crime, gaps in knowledge about insecurity
  • Direct costs of crime and violence equal at least 3 percent of GDP
  • New database on citizen safety programs shows only 7 percent are evaluated for effectiveness

QUITO, Ecuador – Crime and violence take a big development toll on Latin America and the Caribbean, and key knowledge gaps undermine the ability to formulate effective public policies, according to several new reports released today by the Inter-American development Bank (IDB).

The reports were unveiled during the ongoing 7th Regional Policy Dialogue and Intensive Training Clinic. Jointly organized with the government of Ecuador, the event brings together world experts and officials.

The IDB released a report on the social costs of crime and violence, a new roadmap for future IDB research and a new database of citizen security programs in the region.

“Crime devalues the human, physical and social capital of society and affects the poor disproportionately,” said Nathalie Alvarado, Citizen Security Principal Specialist at the IDB. “It is essential that we understand why our region has so much violence, and then identify what can be done that is most effective and in keeping with our reality.”

Latin America and the Caribbean are exceptionally violent when compared to other regions. It accounts for 9 percent of the world's population, but registers one-third of all homicides. Even after adjusting for income, inequality and poverty levels, the region has exceptionally high levels of violence, especially homicides and robberies.

The study on the costs of crime is the first systematic effort to put together rigorous research about the issue in the region. Using cutting-edge edge research methodology, it looks at direct costs such as spending on public and private security – as well as outlays in justice systems and the social costs of homicides. It also examines indirect costs such as the suffering of victims and changes in routines forced by the fear of being victimized.

Estimates of the direct costs use a common methodology for five countries: Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay. The cost of crime in those countries averaged 3 percent of GDP, which is equal to what the region invests annually on infrastructure. Chile registered the lowest cost at 1.8 percent of GDP, and Honduras the highest at 4.6 percent. For all five countries, the cost totaled $3.9 billion in 2010.

The report also analyzes the indirect costs of crime through seven studies in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Peru. One study in Colombia, for example, measured the impact of justice system reforms on the crime rate. Another found that the increase of homicides in Mexico affected the value of the homes of poor families. Yet another found that property values in Brazil fell when the homicide rate went up. And in Peru, one study examined the impact of domestic violence on the health of children.

More research and data are needed

The new database of citizen security programs, created together with the Igarapé Institute, tracks 1,350 citizen security programs at the sub-national level over the past decade. Two out of every three programs are in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Central America. A sampling of 10 percent of the programs showed that only 7 percent were rigorously evaluated, and 57 percent had no evaluation at all.

The IDB is launching several efforts, together with countries in the region, to improve the quality of the statistics through the prompt publication of a new database with indicators on crime and violence.

“While research on crime has advanced in other regions of the world, Latin America and the Caribbean are characterized by their lack of reliable data, which hampers academic research and the formulation of effective policies,” said Laura Jaitman, an IDB specialist on citizen security and editor of the report on crime costs. “The available evidence comes largely from the developed world, and generally cannot be applied to the region because of the different contexts.”

In addition, the IDB laid out a road map of its future research agenda, which will focus on:

  • Generating data and methodologies to measure the costs of crime.
  • Social prevention of crime, with emphasis on vulnerable youths and women.
  • Urban crimes, and the most effective use of public spaces to prevent violence.
  • The use of community policing, “Big Data” and new technologies to improve police work.
  • Criminal justice systems, with a focus on evaluating rehabilitation and reinsertion programs.

More than 900 delegates have participated in the citizen security Dialogues and Clinics, including senior government officials, civil society organizations and IDB experts. About 150 are expected at the gathering in Ecuador.

About the IDB

The InterAmerican Development Bank is the most important source of development financing and technical assistance for Latin America and the Caribbean. The bank seeks to improve the quality of life of the people in the region, working together with its member countries to contribute to the application of novel solutions to the problems of development.