Safe Communities–Part 2: Crime and Violence Prevention in Guatemala & Honduras

  • Tony Garrastazu

At the beginning of 2016, IRI partnered with the Government of Canada’s Center for Expertise on Fragile and Conflict-Affected States, to design and implement a regional democratic governance program focused on strengthening citizen security.

Thanks to Canada’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force’s (START) Global Peace and Security Fund (GPSF), the Institute was able to work in 10 cities across Guatemala and Honduras—Quetzaltenango, Salcajá, Estanzuela, Teculután, San José Pinula, Esquipulas,  Puerto Cortés, Omoa, Santa Rita Yoro, La Lima, as well as the Federation of Municipalities Metropoli de los Altos, an association representing 11 municipalities in Guatemala, and the Honduran Association of Municipalities, AMHON.

Beneficiaries included more than 170 local officials and diverse community leaders—medical professionals, social workers, teachers, clergy, elderly, housewives, journalists, business owners, union members, police, firefighters, military, and representatives of marginalized groups—women, indigenous, youth and LGBTI persons. The objective was to enhance local official’s ability to reduce crime and violence in their communities by maximizing local citizen involvement.  In Guatemala and Honduras, this is done by creating, strengthening and diversifying bodies known as municipal security commissions (MSCs). Made up of local volunteers who serve in an advisory capacity, MSCs provide a platform for stakeholder support and citizen inputs into local security policies.

January to March 2016, IRI organized series of workshops and best practice exchanges in which beneficiaries learned to map crime hotspots and use data driven techniques, such as polls and surveys, to develop, design and implement crime and violence prevention strategies. Trainings focused on conflict resolution, organization, inclusion, negotiations, and establishing citizen networks as tools for combatting crime and addressing public safety concerns. Sessions also raised awareness on domestic and gender based violence highlighting its role as primary cause of crime in communities. In peer to peer exchanges, MSC members visited Argentina, Colombia and Mexico to learn about violence prevention efforts in those countries.

In the cities of Tigre and Rosario, Argentina, beneficiaries saw innovative crime prevention approaches in action. Junin’s citizen protection program, Abuelos Conectados (Connected Grandfathers) uses recycled pre-paid cellphones to help prevent violence against the elderly. Junín city officials call participants on a daily basis to inquire about suspicious activity, health, or other issues of concern. The 300-member program, which began in 2008, reduced violence from 17 to zero reported incidents in one year.  In Tigre, citizen services focused on a surveillance camera monitoring center that also controls an airborne drone fleet, hard-wired home alarm system for seniors, and beeper based sexual assault warning systems for women who live in or transit dangerous neighborhoods. In Rosario, participants learned about community policing techniques in South America’s narco-trafficking corridor. 

Next, participants visited Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia.  Partners Colombia Diversa, the Municipality of Bogotá, Medellín Inteligente and Medellín’s Agency for Cooperation and Investment briefed our travelers on diversity, inclusion, and human rights programs as well as public policies addressing the needs of the LGBTI community. They included meetings with the office of Sexual Diversity and Trans Outreach Centers for Integral Attention to Sexual Diversity in Teusaquillo and Los Mártires. Discussions also focused on public private partnerships for crime reduction, citizen participation in government planning and decision-making processes, and use of low-cost digital tools and technology incubators that foster innovation through increased foreign investments and digitization of public services.

In Mexico City and the State of Nuevo León, recipients observed public safety initiatives implemented by the municipalities of Gustavo A. Madero, Guadalupe, and Escobedo respectively. While there, they met with civil society organizations, visited private sector funded entrepreneurship and community centers led by CEMEX, witnessed-citizen driven digital crime reporting platforms and university innovation incubators. A university, the Tecnológico de Monterrey, discussed providing scholarships to several partner cities t help them develop crime prevention plans.

During the tours, participants also got briefings on IRI tools, techniques and methodologies as Muni in Your Neighborhood, a program that encourages government officials to get out and hold regular meetings in the barrios to provide information and solicit feedback from citizens. The exchanges shared practical experiences and field tested crime and violence prevention models to help participants from Guatemala and Honduras develop strategies to address local public safety concerns.

As a result of these exchanges, some of the municipalities have been able to recover public spaces, develop plans to establish community policing, implement free Wi-Fi zones in town squares, and launch social media campaigns to raise awareness of violence and crime prevention efforts. Officials from Puerto Cortés, Honduras, shared lessons learned in community policing, such that Salcaja, Guatemala has initiated a similar pilot, coordinating with their national police to develop a community police force. In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, the municipality is generating alliances with the private sector to look into establishing an entrepreneurship center where youth would receive business training.

To date, program participants continue to raise awareness through a dedicated social media campaign. During the 12 week implementation period, IRI helped partners create a social media plan, #JuntosPrevenimos, to bring about changes in attitudes, behaviors and perceptions on crime and violence prevention. The campaign sought to influence and solicit citizen feedback in the design of prevention objectives, reaching 35,124 users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The program created an application, VeoYPrevengo, allowing citizens to provide feedback and ideas on local public safety solutions, not just complaints. The App seeks to reshape a culture of complaints into one of collaborating on solutions between government and citizens.

Understanding citizen buy-in as imperative for a sustainable approach to prevention. Beginning with the premise that public safety is a basic human right and co-responsibility between government and citizens, recipients learned that building bridges, dialogue, tolerance, inclusion, diversity, and conviviality is key to prevention.

Participants from Guatemala and Honduras visit with students from the Secundaria Tres Caminos in Mexico City.


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