Crime, the scourge of today’s cities

imagen-delincuenciaSince 2008, Latin Americans think their cities’ worst problem is crime. There’s a reason for that, despite underreporting, figures are quite alarming.

“While in the late 80s and early 90s of last century the average murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants for Caribbean and American nations, including the US and Canada, was 14.1 and the most violent countries were Colombia with a murder rate of 67, followed by Honduras (41.1) Guatemala (36.2), Brazil (19.7) and Mexico (17.8). 22 years later, the average murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 21.3, meaning murder violence grew 51%,” indicates an analysis by a renowned security expert.

Venezuela, based on numbers by the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, registers the largest growth with 156% and 519%, respectively. Venezuela is followed by Paraguay (147 %), Belize (142 %), Peru (106 %), and Honduras (105 %), all doubling the indicator.

Numbers are clear. That’s why the specialist indicates the most violent cities are in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the annual report by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Penal Justice in the world’s 50 most violent cities.

Brazil is first with 16 cities, followed by Mexico with 9, Colombia with 6 (Cali, Palmira, Santa Marta, Cucuta, Pereira, Medellin), Venezuela 5, Honduras 2 and El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, with one city each.

Source: El Tiempo


Recovering lost spaces

sabana grandeIt is a dangerous thing letting city spaces get taken over by criminals. When the authorities in charge of people’s safety leave their responsibilities aside, common and organized criminals take over urban areas and leave no option but the intervention of the organized community along with the city hall to recover such lost spaces, as happens in some municipalities of Caracas.

In 1969 in Stanford University (USA), Prof. Philip Zimpardo carried out a social psychology experiment. He left two identical cars, of the same make, model and color, abandoned on the street, one in the Bronx, a poor and conflictive area of New York, and the other in Palo Alto, a rich and quiet area in California.

Two identical cars abandoned, two neighborhoods with very different people and a team of specialists in social psychology studying people’s behavior in each place. It turned out that the car abandoned in the Bronx was vandalized within a few hours. They took the tires, the engine, rearview mirrors, stereo, etc. Everything worth something was taken, and what wasn’t worth anything got destroyed. In turn, the car abandoned in Palo Alto was left intact.

It’s a common thing blaming crime on poverty, but poor is not a synonym for criminal. How many poor people are there in Caracas and how many of them are criminals? Poverty might be a factor, but it is not a basic condition. The experiment did not end there.

After the car abandoned in the Bronx was totally destroyed and the one left in Palo Alto had been intact for a week, the researchers broke a window of the Palo Alto car. That triggered the same process that had taken place in the Bronx, robbery, violence and vandalism reduced the vehicle to the same state as the one left in the poor neighborhood. The result of this experiment was later called the “Theory of Broken Windows.”

ventana-rotaWhy is a broken window in a car abandoned in an allegedly safe neighborhood enough to trigger a criminal process?

It is not about poverty. Evidently it has something to do with human psychology and social relations. A broken window on an abandoned car sends a message of deterioration, a lack of interest or concern that breaks codes of coexistence, like an absence of law, a lack of rules, as if it is no man’s land. Each new attack on the abandoned car reaffirms and multiplies that message, until the escalation to worse and worse actions becomes uncontainable, culminating in irrational violence, a social anomie. In later experiments, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling developed the theory of broken windows, the same that from a criminology point of view concludes that crime is bigger in areas where carelessness, filthiness, disorder and abuse are present in a bigger proportion.

If a building’s window is broken and no one fixes it, soon all other windows will be broken too. If a community shows signs of deterioration and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone, crime will proliferate. If “little faults” (parking in forbidden zones, speeding or running a red light) are overlooked and unpunished, bigger faults will begin to take place and then serious crimes; there’s no doubt that impunity is crime and violence’s best ally.

54937colectivo%20la%20piedritaIf deteriorated parks and other public spaces are progressively abandoned by most people (who stop leaving their homes out of fear to gangs or criminals), those same abandoned spaces are progressively occupied by criminals. The theory of broken windows was first applied in the mid 80s in the New York subway, which had become the most dangerous place in the city.

They started out by fighting small transgressions: graffiti deteriorating the place, filth in the stations, public inebriation, ticket payment evasion, small theft and disorders. The results were evident. Starting small they were able to make the subway a safe place. Then in 1994, Rudolph Giuliani, Mayor of New York, based on the theory of broken windows and on the subway experience, promoted a Zero Tolerance policy. The strategy consisted on creating clean and organized communities by not overlooking transgressions to the law and rules of urban coexistence; of course, the economic reality is very different in Latin American countries.

The practical result was a significant reduction in all crime rates in the city of New York.

The expression “zero tolerance” sounds like an authoritarian and repressive solution, but its main concept is more about prevention and the promotion of social conditions of safety. It is not about lynching criminals or the arrogance of law enforcement officers. As a matter of fact, a zero tolerance policy should also be applied to authority abuses. It is not zero tolerance for the person committing the crime, but for the crime itself. It’s about creating clean, orderly, law abiding communities following the basic codes of human social coexistence.

Women are the most affected by crime

delitos contra la mujerWomen are the most exposed to experiencing violent situations on the streets. While crime victims are distributed in similar proportions among the genders, women are more prone to robberies and snatches. Women’s physical characteristics, lower chances of having violent reactions and the frequency in which they move around with children are the factors that make them more vulnerable. Women also have an added fear, sexual violence, a specific risk rather than a sensation that limits them when moving around town and in places considered risky for their physical integrity. In this issue, G4S Venezuela addresses this matter that affects women directly by offering preventive safety recommendations in order to help reduce their risk of becoming victims of violent crimes.

For women, the way to work, waiting for the bus, moving around in their vehicles, going to the supermarket, the mall, or back home are the riskiest moments; men, in turn, are mainly victims of crime at night or during weekends. In most cases, women change their usual routes by instinct or have someone accompanying them to avoid being jumped by criminals. This is a very particular way of using the conservation instinct women usually follow.

According to the National Survey on Victimization and Citizen’s Perception of Safety 2009, prepared by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), 33.97% of Venezuelan crime victims were women. However, many of the crimes, in the case of women, are not reported, so we can assure the real number of victims is much higher than the one reported in official statistics.

The most common crimes suffered by women are: Sex abuse 89.57%, fraud 47.81%, threats and personal injuries 41.61% and 51.54% respectively, theft 39.83%, kidnapping 25.66% and murder 18.87%.

As to sex abuse, most cases, 77.06%, involve women between the ages of 25 and 44, in time periods between 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm (49.63%) and in their area of residence (42.72%).

As preventive measures to take in helping to avoid the crimes specified in the statistics above, G4S Venezuela has compiled a series of recommendations that you can consider if you find yourself in a risky situation:

Prevention on the street

  • If you become aware that someone is following you, try to find a crowded place to protect yourself from such threat.
  • Avoid walking in dark areas or deserted streets.
  • If you are about to leave your home, office or the mall and notice something suspicious, tell this to the closest person to you who can help and don’t go outside.
  • If you carry jewels or valuable items on the street, do not wear them ostentatiously. Being inconspicuous will help you go unnoticed.
  • If your neighbor is victim of a crime or is in danger, warn others by shouting or making noises to discourage the criminals. If you hear this kind of alarm signs, imitate them.
  • In case your house or your neighbor’s house has been robbed, call the police immediately. Try not to touch anything until the evidence has been collected.
  • Do not fight or try to stop the criminals.
  • If you are the witness of an illegal episode, try to gather as much information about the criminals as possible and report them.
  • If a shooting takes place, quickly drop to the ground as close to a wall as possible.

What to do when you are the victim in a dangerous situation?

During an armed robbery:

  • Stay calm.
  • Collaborate with the criminal without opposing any resistance.
  • Don’t look at the aggressor’s face in order to reduce his aggressiveness.
  • Talk in a calm tone of voice, try not to shout.
  • Avoid making sudden moves. According to statistics, 49% of criminals perform their acts while under the influence of drugs and psychotropic substances, therefore, they are not in full control of their actions and you might be the victim of an accidental gunshot.

Know that criminals always act at random, after they’ve quickly checked their next victim’s unawareness. For instance, walking on the street while talking on the cell phone automatically reduces your level of concentration, creating the perfect moment for criminals to take advantage of the situation.

During a rape attempt:

  • When attacked by a rapist, even if you seem threatened, yell “fire” the first chance you get instead of asking for help. It is proved that people react to a “fire” warning faster.
  • One of the main characteristics of certain sex offenders, especially those with mental disorders, is they prefer it when their victims resist or yell. Some possible ways to discourage them are faking to pass out or telling them you have a venereal disease or HIV AIDS.
  • In case of being with a suspicious person in an elevator or a cramped space, look directly into his face and ask him something, such as the time. If this person wants to hurt you, he’ll probably feel discouraged for a fear of being easily identified.
  • Rapes must be immediately reported to the competent authorities.

Where to call in case of emergency

Integral Emergency System: 171

Movistar: 911

Movilnet: *1

Digitel: 112

CICPC: 0800-2427224

Civil Protection: 0 800 558842

UCV CENTER FOR WOMEN STUDIES: free psycho-social and legal assistance and support in case of couples’ violence, sexual harassment and violation of women’s human rights. Av. Neverí. CC Los Chaguaramos, piso 10, of. 10-4. Caracas. (0212)6933286 and 3345456.,

AVESA: psychological help in cases of domestic and sexual violence. Av. Anauco c/calle Roraima. Qta. Avesa, San Bernardino. Caracas. (0212)5518081 and 5510212.,

ATTORNEY GENERAL’S VICTIM ASSISTANCE UNIT: Domestic violence reports. Av. Urdaneta. Caracas. (0212)5625737, 0800-FISCAL-0 (0800-3472250).

How easy is it to spy a mobile phone?

Espia de celularesTelecommunications security researchers have developed an economic and relatively simple method to intercept calls from a laptop computer by locating a specific mobile phone and following its every move from over 500 meters and storing copies of the conversations.

According to these specialists, GSM technology has become anachronistic when it comes to security and privacy.

GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) technology dominates the mobile phone market, it is used in millions of cell phones worldwide, but many of its components were developed in the 80s and are vulnerable to attacks by 21st century hackers.

The privacy of the calls made with GSM mobile phones is based on an encrypting mechanism and the fact that mobile service towers quickly change the way in which they identify each device that gets connected to them.

The researchers were able to decipher the mathematical algorithm used to encrypt conversations and used it to decode the calls. Their work tools are: a laptop computer and a specific cell phone model of a well-known brand whose operative system base had been deciphered and details published online.

The programmers use that information to create an original program that allows them to obtain hidden technical information from mobile service towers.

These specialists guarantee it’s only a matter of time until someone makes these espionage tools public, and that could help criminals walk the streets with light equipment, similar to the one used by the researchers, listening and recording conversations.

The fact that researchers and criminals are concentrating more in mobile phones has led the main mobile phone providers to take measures being that their reputation is at stake and they don’t want to be branded as companies that use insecure networks.

For those worried about their cell phones’ safety, if you have the right kind of device, use only 3G networks, as they occupy a much more powerful encrypted system.

They can also install encrypting software for prevention. There are many applications of this kind available for smart phones.