The economic cost of gangs

The Boston Globe recently ran another story about the scourge of Central America gangs. One new statistic is an estimate that gangs have depressed the economic output of Central America by as much as 25%:
In recent years, the two major gangs have become far more vicious and sophisticated, forming alliances with organized crime in prison and shuttling operatives between the United States and their home countries. Their trademark beheadings, mutilations, and torture-killings of rival gangsters, informants, and other victims have made them a top priority of the FBI's criminal enterprise branch.

In Central America, governments have experimented with get-tough laws, only to see crime worsen every year. Violence and extortion -- from petty ''taxes" levied on bus drivers and corner shopkeepers to tens of thousands of dollars demanded of a major soda company in El Salvador -- have scared off investors, shaving regional gross domestic product by some 25 percent, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.(more).


El-Visitador said…
Yet another misleading report full of whining by politicos and "experts." El Salvador is torn by crime simply because we don't have enough cops, judges, and jails.

Cops per 100,000 inhabitants:
450 - New York
470 - Chicago
700 - D.C.
460 - Philly
253 - El Salvador

Let us not tear our garments and say that "mano dura" does not work, when we have too few cops on the streets.

Sure, Central American politicos will try to shift the blame to the U.S., to cover the fact that they mismanage our Budgets and spend too little on citizen safety, and too much on government unions, "cultural" budgets, multi-million "tourism" ministries, "women development institutes" and other larks they use for political patronage.

The U.S. is safe, but it has enough jails for 746 criminals per 100,000 inhabitants. El Salvador is unsafe, because it has only room for 175 criminals per 100,000 inhabitants.

If ES had proportionally as many criminals behind bars as the U.S., it would have 49,000 prisoners. Instead, we have 11,500. This means we have about 37,500 criminals on our streets that in the U.S. would be safely behind bars. Guess what... this number corresponds to our gangs on the street!

The fact of the matter is, we have "mano dura" only in name, not in number of cops on the street or jails or judges.

All numbers quoted from hard sources in:
Tenemos crimen porque queremos
¿Tiene suficientes policías y leyes El Salvador?
Mysterious Me said…
I find it really interesting when statements like the following are pointed out...
Their trademark beheadings, mutilations, and torture-killings of rival gangsters,

The interesting point is, that although these practices might be part of gang activity, it is also resembles behavior from the death squads. Some here go so far to day that this gang behavior is really the police killing off gang members as a type of social cleansing and making it out to be a gang on gang killing.

It´s a delicate argument...
Anonymous said…
El sueño del hombre en vida, el ideario de todos los pueblos, los deseos de un niño, las irreverencias de un adolescentes, el gusto por los que te gusta, el tener por satisfacer, el querer para ser, el desafío que late en el interior de todas las sociedades.

El sueño del hombre vida que busca realizar sus anhelos, de ser él impulsor de nuevos proyectos y grandes empresas, de nuevos inventos y productos, de la conquista de mercados, de lo que ha llevado a muchísimos seres humanos a grandes descubrimientos, a las conquistas de nuevas tierras, de nuevos bloques económicos, de las posiciones ante la globalización.

El ideario de todos los pueblos que buscan su autodeterminación, de los pueblos que buscan su identidad, de los pueblos que defienden con su vida sus espacios, sus ideales, sus filosofías, sus religiones, de los pueblos que han preferido morir que sucumbir, de los pueblos que se han atrevido a ser ellos mismos.

Los deseos de un niño, de ser bombero, de ser policía, de ser el héroe de la película, de curar a los animales, de ser la estrella del equipo, de ayudar a una viejecita a cruzar la calle, de compartir de su pelota, de sembrar flores, de ver crecer un árbol, de regalar sonrisas por doquier.

Las irreverencias de los adolescentes, cuestionando todo por todo, sufriendo por todo, amando hasta los mas profundo cada vez que el amor se aparece, poniéndole objeciones a sus padres, riéndose de lo que un maestro intenta decirles, vistiéndose como se les pega la gana, llorando por que perdió su equipo favorito o porque el primer amor se ha ido, adoleciendo del valor para ser, con la convicción de querer ser.

El gusto por lo que gusta, por aquello que te complace, por aquello que puedes pedir y se te da sin regateos para disfrutarse, por sentarse a hacer lo que justamente el espíritu demanda, sin tener que privarse por checar una tarjeta de asistencia, ni dar cuentas a nadie.

El tener el amor, al Padre, a Mamá y a Papá, al hermano, a la hermana, al amigo, a la amiga, la novia, la esposa, los hijos, el compañero, el poder tener los pequeños logros que le dan asentido a la vida, que le hacen ser vida. No se trata de tener por tener, sino, tener por estar satisfecho con lo que uno es y para lo que estamos intentando mientras estamos en este mundo.

El querer para ser, considerando que queriendo y siendo queridos es como mejor nos manifestamos, que queriendo somos, que queriendo llegamos a los que más aspiramos, por que solo queriendo a los demás podemos aspirar a ser y estar en este mundo.

El desafío iniciado el 5 de Noviembre de 1811 y que concluyó el 15 de septiembre de 1821 en la Ciudad de San Salvador, ha legado el ejercer él mayor derecho, que después de estar vivo, podemos ejercer, la Libertad, y con ella, los sueños, los gustos, los deseos, las irreverencias, el amor, el querer, y ¿sabe?, no hay nada como la libertad, ¿no le parece?.
Anonymous said…
El Salvador does not need as many cops as New York City or Washington, D.C. New York has three airports, a sea port, underground subways, and is considered the financial capital of the world with billion dollar assets, museums, posh jewelry districts, etc. Washington has Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, etc.

Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Diego, are among the many U.S. cities who make do with roughly the same number of cops as San Salvador. Clearly the number of cops doesn't dictate. It's the underlying poverty, the lack of economic support, that causes crime. It's the same age old story, man!
El-Visitador said…
"...are among the many U.S. cities who make do with roughly the same number of cops as San Salvador."

Riiiiight... dude, cops in L.A. have: patrol cars with networked laptops, tasers, flares, mobile phones, car radios and personal radios, helicopters, huge CSI departments, expensive & frequent training, mega-dispatch offices, etc.

Salvadorean cops have: a few cars to share with whole police stations, 2 helos for the whole country, one side-arm, TYPEWRITERS in the police stations (and according to yersterday's newspaper, NO TYPEWRITER PAPER).

If cities like L.A. have 250 cops per 100K, with tech and infrastructure, ES should have about 750 cops per 100K, given the fact we give NO TECH and limited infrastructure to our policemen.

And about us having criminals because we are poor... man, that's the worst insult a rich gringo can give to our poor. Think about it. You are saying poor = criminal. Jeez.
Anonymous said…
I think your vision of L.A. cops is exaggerated. I live in L.A. and a good friend of mine is a cop here. While the "City of L.A." cops may have high tech gadgets, the rest of L.A. county, which is a sprawling area, consist of very small cities with very small police forces, which probably have comparable resources to the San Salvador cops.

Incidentally, I am a *Salvadoran* living in L.A., and of course can mean no insult when I say that poverty leads to crime. I have lived in poverty-ridden areas all of my life and I can see that crime plagues the poor.
Anonymous said…
Additionally, I think it is a greater insult to say what they need is to be policed and billyclubbed into shape.
El-Visitador said…
Anonymous said...
"I say that poverty leads to crime"
"Additionally, I think it is a greater insult to say what they need is to be policed and billyclubbed into shape."

There you go again. You are saying the poor are criminals and need to be policed.

I need to make crystal clear I am saying El Salvador likely has the same % of criminals as the U.S. (human nature, you know), and that we NEED TO POLICE OUR CRIMINALS.

I have made no statement regarding the socio-economic level of the criminally oriented. It seems to me that, when given the chance, some people are likely to sin, regardless of socio-economic status.

The bottom line is that the U.S. is a safer country than ES and there is no denying that the U.S. has significantly more cops, more judges, and more jails, per inhabitant, than ES.
Tim said…
Some comments and thoughts.

First, I still need to study the statistics that El Visitador loves to use. Just from my experience in many American cities and in El Salvador, my sense is there is a greater police presence in El Salvador. Obviously that does not mean they are equally effective. I also assume that El Salvador statistics do not include the military personnel which PNC chief Avila includes in patrols in high gang areas with 4 military personnel with a single PNC cop.

Second, there are certainly some correlations between poverty and crime rates. This does not mean that poor people are criminals -- it means that poverty can lead to some types of economic crimes (if stealing is the only way to put food on the table) and crime can lead to poverty.

Yet any discussion of crime in Central America has to deal with the wide variation in crime rates between Nicaragua and El Salvador. Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere and I can guarantee that it is not because Nicaragua has a large US-style police force or an effective criminal justice system. Nicaragua also has higher degress of poverty -- showing that any poverty/crime correlation is not a simple one.

Finally, I would note that the supposedly effective levels of policing in the US have not been able to prevent the dramatic growth of Mara Salvatrucha there.

The "more cops, more prisons, throw away the key" approach is not a long run solution for El Salvador, nor is it likely to be effective in the short term.
El-Visitador said…
Tim, very thoughtful comments and will love to see fresh data. There is always room to change one's mind when the data changes.

You are absolutely correct that the data I present does not include any soldiers walking with a cop. Please do not fall for Saca's propaganda. From a crime-control perspective, the soldiers may as well not be there. They may even be harmful. Policemen are trained personnel. The Peace Accords created a Police Academy with Board Members representatives as diverse as delegates from the National University. If police training were unimportant, this wouldn't have been a key Accord.

A look at Nicaragua would be fascinating. I tend to agree it looks... pastoral. Certainly a less urbanized country, with better extended-family support in each town/village. Clan oversight probably helps keep the criminally-oriented in check. Then again, just how safe is it? Worldwide, one of the great challenges of safety monitoring is crime under-reporting. Back in the 1970's in ES, hardly any bothered to report crime to the police, for: what was the point? The other Nicaragua question is: how good is the reporting in places such as Bluefields and the Miskito coast?

"Not likely to be effective in the long term" ---look at NYC. One of the safest major cities in the whole wide world. It's been so for what... 15? 20? years? Home of Giuliani's "zero tolerance" Police Department.

That "short-term" solution might good enough for desperate Salvadoreans.
Anonymous said…
I really think that El Salvadors crime wave is predomnatly caused by the people having a lack of access to socially valued resources such as education, health care .etc. Their angry. Gangs are fundamentaly created by anger...We cant change the past...what has been done but we can educate the next generation.. show them a better alternative