Violent crime, public perceptions and citizen security strategies in Colombia during the 1990s
This research deals with the topic of violent crime in urban Colombia. Although many references are made to the conflict between the State, guerrilla groups and paramilitary organisations in rural areas, and to the problem of drug-cartels and illegal-drug production, the main aim of the thesis is to show recent trends in violent crime and discuss citizen security strategies followed during the decade of the 1990s. Chapter 1 focuses on urban homicides. In Colombia, 40 percent of the 25,000 annual homicides are committed in the ten largest cities. The cities of Medellin, Bogota and Cali account for almost 30 percent of this total. Although the victims are mainly young men from the poorest socio-economic levels, homicides are not necessarily correlated to the areas where the poor live. The probability of getting involved in a homicide, either as a victim or as victimiser, is significantly higher in places where access to economic resources is greater. Chapter 2 analyses the problem of kidnappings. The chapter looks at recent progresses in Colombian anti-kidnapping legislation and focuses on the authors, the victims and the riskzones where most cases take place. Although these crimes affect mainly the rich and the middle class, kidnappers have recently started to target victims from all social backgrounds. This strategy creates fear among citizens and permits kidnappers to extort more fees from people who could be at risk of being kidnapped. Chapter 3 looks at the issue of perception and fear of crime. This question provides a better understanding of the concept of risk and the subjectivity of decision-making when facing insecurity. If citizen security strategies have had little impact during the last decade, it has been partly because of poor levels of co-operation and communication with the population. The consequence of this has been an increasing perception of insecurity and distrust among citizens. Chapter 4 assesses citizen security strategies followed during the administrations of Presidents Gaviria (1990-1994), Samper (1994-1998) and Pastrana (1998-2002). The reforms implemented since the adoption of a new Constitution in 1991 have had important impacts on security strategies as they have given more discretionary powers to civilian authorities, especially at the municipal level. Larger cities like Bogotá, Cali and Medellin, implemented a series of successful programmes that have reduced the levels of violent crime, notably homicides. Other crimes, like kidnappings, have not decreased since the government has lacked a coherent strategy to combine its peace negotiations with insurgent organisations with its legitimate right to fight violent crime.