Mixed crime news

When I first started writing this blog, I used to write regularly about the monthly murder statistics which the country's papers would publish. That soon grew too depressing, so I stopped writing so frequently about the murder rate. It's still depressing, but it's important to look at the trends occasionally.

The overall trend on murders in El Salvador shows no real improvement. Through the first six months of the year, there were 2120 murders in El Salvador. The number of homicides has remained at close to the same level as in the past two years, with only a slight reduction. This is true despite the presence of military troops in high crime areas and well-publicized raids like the mass arrests of more than 130 gang members at the end of June. There are still 11 to 12 murders on an average day in El Salvador, or an annualized murder rate of approximately 69.5 per 100,000 population.  

One potentially hopeful crime trend is a reported decrease in the number of kidnappings in El Salvador. The online new source InSight-Organized Crime in The Americas reports:
El Salvador authorities announced that there were half as many reported kidnapping cases in the last 12 months, compared to the previous 12 month-period. According to reports, the Special Unit for Organized Crime of the Attorney General's Office said that between June 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011 the police were informed of 37 kidnappings, compared with 77 cases the previous year. The office also said that 80 percent of those kidnappings had been resolved with the capture and conviction of the perpetrator.

According to the Attorney General's Office, this dramatic improvement is thanks to government security policies. The figures would give El Salvador one of the lowest kidnapping rates in Central America, with 0.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. However, many cases of kidnapping likely go unreported, making these figures questionable.

Another trend is the shifting geography of crime in the country. Of El Salvador's 14 departments, the department with the highest murder rate is Sonsonate in the western part of El Salvador.  Also from InSight:
The authorities have several explanations for why violence is rising in Sonsonante. As La Prensa Grafica reports, the National Police (PNC), say that rivalries among local gangs account for many killings in a region that is highly controlled by these “pandillas.” In fact, the police state that only two municipalities are not under gang control in the province. The sheer number of these criminal groups drives clashes, with a number of small-scale groups fighting for a piece of territory, sometimes block by block. Authorities have also said that violence has gone up in Sonsonate as a result of the release from prison of several gang leaders from the area. According to reports, their return likely provoked struggles with rivals for control of the region.

The killings in Sonsonate could also be due in part to a “balloon effect” caused by anti-gang policies in other parts of the country. With law enforcement efforts concentrated on the capital, San Salvador, the “maras” are forced to move to peripheral areas of the district, and to other regions. In the provinces of La Union and Cabañas, east of San Salvador, homicide rates have risen in 2011. The figures suggest that police deployment may be moving the violence from place to place, rather than eradicating it.
You can read my prior posts about crime in El Salvador by clicking on the topic "crime and violence."   The stories show a variety of different ineffectual government attempts to solve the problem, and an ongoing epidemic bringing tragedy into the lives of so many families in the country.


Unknown said…
I try and avoid watching the news or reading the local paper because lets face it, ignorance is bliss and I don't want to live in a constant state of fear. But just this past weekend 2 young men were murdered minutes from my house for not paying rent. I don't understand these gang members motives for placing rent on poor people who are barely getting by as it is. I know of tortilleras who have been killed for the same reason. The government needs to step up and take control of these terrible situation before a second civil war begins in this already impoverished country.

Jennifer Reyes
Amanda said…
I have a really good friend who lives in Sonsonate. I am planning a trip next year, but after reading several articles about the high crime rate, I have some questions. I live in Atlanta, Ga so I am not unfamiliar with high crime and murder stats. But is it really different from any typical big city in the United States?
Tim said…
The crime rate in Sonsonate is about 3X the rate in Atlanta according to some stats I read. My usual advice is to stick with Salvadorans who know the area you are visiting and will know where it is safe and where not. I regularly visit a community where gangs are a problem. But using prudence and common sense, I have not felt in danger.
Note that it turns out crime is worse than earlier reported. Oops, maybe recycling ARENA's Mano Dura policies under the FMLN brand doesn't works so well. See http://www.contrapunto.com.sv/ultimas-noticias/el-salvador-registra-alza-de-homicidios.