• Is this the way to fight crime?

    Over at the New York TimesFixes blog, Tina Rosenberg has a nice post about the so-called Colombia’s evidence-based crime-fighting.

    The post actually praises Cali and it’s mayor, Rodrigo Guerrero, for the struggle to reduce crime and violence rates.

    Turns out Guerrero decided to start treating violence like a disease and he conceives public policy as some sort of medicine engineering. I’d like to highlight this excerpt from Rosenberg’s post:

    Cali started to look at alcohol in the blood of victims (few perpetrators were caught) — and found a large percentage of victims had very high levels. “My initial hypothesis was that this was drug trafficking,” he said. “But the traffickers were not going to wait for weekends to resolve their conflicts — and get their victims drunk.”

    The astronomical murder rate was related to the cocaine trade, Guerrero concluded — but only indirectly. Cocaine created social disruption and intensified an already-violent culture. “Drug trafficking was like H.I.V.,” Guerrero said. “It interferes with the defense mechanisms — in this case police and justice.” Those institutions were corrupted and degraded to the point where practically no one paid a penalty for murder — a suspect was identified in only 3 percent of homicides and convicted in a small percentage of those.

    Guerrero banned the sale of alcohol after 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (That 2 a.m. is considered early closing says a lot about the problem.)


    The other decree banned the carrying of guns — enforced by checkpoints and pat-downs — on payday weekends and holidays.

    Yes, these measures have helped reduce violence and crime rates, but I want to question the merits of Guerrero’s ‘evidence-based system’. Guerrero is a surgeon so one can understand the analogy crime-disease… except it has a nefarious underpinning.

    Let’s all agree rights and liberties are for individuals and protecting them should be one of the guiding principles in public policymaking. Then, we come across the functionalist theory, which poses that societies are complex systems, and its top priority is to be functional (hence the name for the theory). When you think the greater good rests upon the improvement of the system no matter what, you stop caring about people’s rights — those rights become expendable annoyances. (You can see where this is going, right?)

    Anyhow, treating a society as an individual person places the top priority of such a society in improving itself no matter what. It’s a slippery slope: we can throw in a curfew in here, ban alcohol there, cut the discos and clubs’ timetables, ban guns and they keep on amputating civil liberties until there’s nowhere else where to cut from.

    Do you think I am overreacting? Let me introduce you to Colombian 101 policymaking — curtailing the most basic civil rights has worked like a charm, so it’s become the by-default policy: we can’t use our cars half of the week, children can’t go trick-or-treat on Halloween night, men can’t ride motorcycles as passengers (one of Colombian hitmans favorite MOs; nevertheless, policymakers didn’t consider women can point and shoot), there are timetables for buying alcohol (you’re not even allowed to get a beer after 10 p.m.) and some of the public transport buses have only-women areas (because, you know, no lesbian, gay guy or straight woman, ever, has sexually harassed someone else), and we have “men curfew” nights (if you have a penis, you’ll be fined if you’re to be found outside that Friday).

    Ohh, what a genious crime-solving solution: we’ll end up locked up inside our own houses and there will be permanent curfew! So far, we’ve managed to avoid chopping people’s hands when convicted of theft-related crimes, but you wait and see.

    Functional theory is wrong (as well as all of it’s resulting political arrangements) because it states human beings exist with the sole purpose of being of service to the system, and your worth depends on how good you are to the machine. You’re no more than a cogwheel or a gear. And if you’re of no service, you can be dismissed — this is the basis for so-called social cleansing.

    I cannot embrace public policies that segregate on the basis of sex; this runs deeply against my secular humanist values — this is not the spirit that should embody any sane society’s rules. It is a recipe for disaster.

    Yes, violence numbers are going down, but the end doesn’t justify the means. Throwing away civil liberties should be the last resource for any person in public office, not the go-to solution. I welcome looking at big data, the evidence and the numbers and figuring out public policies accordingly, but I strongly reject reactionary policies: I’d rather educational policies. I know they don’t render immediate results, but they can have longlasting ones.

    I would think it twice before giving kudos to Guerrero’s system (and all the other Colombian politicians who followed suit).

    (Image: leg0fenris via photopin cc)

    Category: PhilosophySkepticism and Science


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker
    • kraut2

      The obvious comparison;

      “The Nazi state in fact alleviated many of the frustrations the police
      experienced in the Weimar Republic. The Nazis shielded the police from
      public criticism by censoring the press. They ended street fighting by
      eliminating the Communist hreat. Police manpower was even extended by
      the incorporation of Nazi paramilitary organizations as auxiliary
      policemen. The Nazis centralized and fully funded the police to better
      combat criminal gangs and promote state security. The Nazi state
      increased staff and training, and modernized police equipment. The Nazis
      offered the police the broadest latitude in arrests, incarceration, and
      the treatment of prisoners. The police moved to take “preventive
      action,” that is, to make arrests without the evidence required for a
      conviction in court and indeed without court supervision at all.
      Conservative policemen were initially satisfied with the results of
      their cooperation with the Nazi state. Crime did indeed go down and the
      operation of criminal gangs ended. Order was restored.”


      • Why do I always have to write such long posts to state something others can sum up in a paragraph?

        Thanks for this, @kraut2:disqus

    • Clare45

      It is hardly a major sacrifice of civil liberties to restrict carrying guns at weekends and closing bars and sale of alcohol at 1 a.m on weeknights and 2 a.m at weekends. It reduced the murder rate significantly, so definitely worthwhile. I am with Guerrero.

      • Funny: recent UN report states Cali has *higher* crime rates, so to top it all off, it ain’t working.

        And, speak for yourself, @Clare45:disqus: I’m not giving up my civil liberties just like that.

      • Andrés Cuervo

        It’s so smart to ban guns, because: 1) criminals had permissions to legally
        carry them; 2) the police can’t stop murders, but they can stop people with
        guns (all people with guns are murders) (?); 3) guns are the only weapon used
        to kill.

        • Clare45

          I was mainly referring to the minor controls of alcohol consumption. In the UK, most pubs close at about 11 p.m-even earlier than the curfew imposed by Guerrero. Clubs can stay open later, but there are less of those than pubs or bars.
          Criminals can get hold of guns illegally of course, by stealing them from legal gun owners and the many gun shops in the U.S ( I assume you are talking about the U.S) who make the sale of guns so easy. In countries where gun ownership is restricted, such as Canada and UK, there are many less deaths due to gunshot wounds, but of course you know that already.
          The “right to bear arms” in the U.S goes back to the days when the people did not trust the government and wanted to be able to defend themselves and their principles if the government should somehow get out of hand.
          One needs to balance personal civil liberties with public safety- the greatest good for the greatest number.

          • Yes, one needs balance and in failed states such as Colombia it is immoral and a very bad policy to ban guns.

        • Genius, don’t you think?