September 21, 2008

Believe it or not: "Crime has been reduced"

Crime in HondurasCartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa

"Minister of Security: Crime has been reduced in Honduras"

Translation of the headline of a brief El Heraldo article (in Spanish). A so-so Google translation of the article can be found here.

"The incidence of crime in Honduras has been reduced," said the Minister of Security Jorge Rodas Gamero, the third minister of security in the past three and a half years and brother to Patricia Rodas, President Zelaya's right-hand woman. "Some say that it has increased, other feel more secure." He assured reporters that "the statistics don't show that (crime has increased).

However, when asked in an interview what the statistics are, he responded, "We are working in that direction." He recounted in government gobbledygook that "it takes a process of comparisons in the office of analysis where we are permanently watching what is the behavior of the previous year with this year and other factors, which may not be quantified in the previous year but which must be quantified this year."

That sounds like last year's crime statistics will be changed in order to reflect a decrease this year. A similar thing was done in 2004 when the official Honduran murder statistics for 2002 were revised downward from 95 per 100,000 population to 45, still leaving Honduras with one of the top five murder rates in the world. By comparison, for the last several years, the violent US has ranged from 5.5 to 5.7 murders per 100,000 population and Canada is generally less than 2.

Looking at this report, it seems obvious to me that a new method of fudging statistics was developed in 2003. Now that the rates have risen once again to horrendous levels, yet another new method of reporting the statistics is being developed, probably to keep Honduras from winning the silver medal in worldwide murder counts.

This sounds reminiscent of the health department's dengue statistics last year. Incidents of dengue (another hard to measure statistic because most people do not go to a public doctor or hospital to be treated) were much increased over 2007, so the health department chose to compare 2007 with 2004, thus showing that all was normal. Reporters continually questioned their reasoning to no avail.

The plain fact is that there are no reliable crime statistics in Honduras, other than murder, which is more difficult, though not impossible, to hide. (How many people can accidentally hack themselves to death by falling on their machete?) The vast majority of crimes are never reported because in most cases there is no point to it. At best it is usually a waste of time; at worst it can be dangerous.

This 2007 crime report shows 22 home robberies in the entire departamento (state) of Atlántida! Please! My little neighborhood had at least 25% that number and that is only one neighborhood of a thousand or more in the state. For the entire country, the report shows 249 home robberies. I would estimate that 30-40% of my neighbors have been robbed and that is based only on the ones that I have heard about.

The United Nations and other organizations recognize the lack of reporting of crime. They measure "the perception of crime" in Honduras and other similar countries by public polls in which they ask respondents, among other questions, whether they or members of their family have been a victim of crime.

Rodas Gamero went on to say that "One of the factors that influence violence and insecurity is the quantity of deportees that permanently are coming into our country." He went on to say, "I don't want to say with this that those who come are a factor in the incidence, but within those who come, some come with new experiences, with new methods, and that we have to immediately analyze this so that we can neutralize it."

Offensive! That was my first thought. Sure, some Honduran deportees are criminals and gang members. But to blame the government's inability to control crime, protect its citizens, fight narcotrafficking, or even cleanse the police force of criminals is an insult to the majority who are honest, hard working men and women who, out of desperation, immigrate to other countries in order to help their families to survive. My opinion is that many of these deportees have learned valuable things about the first world which could be of significant benefit to the country, providing they are able to find a job.

Public comments on the newspaper article range from "Do you think the pueblo is stupid?" to "This is the lie of the century." "In what world does this minister live or is this just a bad joke?" Another suggested that the minister should go out on the streets without his bodyguards.

The government needs to take action against crime including making sure that criminals are incarcerated, not feed us false statistics. We aren't dumb and no one is going to buy it.

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