RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Improvements in local governance and emergency response services are linked to a national decline in homicide rates in Guatemala, according to a new study led by RTI International.
Guatemala has the largest and fastest growing population in Central America. In high-crime areas, citizens live in an environment of a perpetual threat from extortion, intimidation and violence. The criminal justice system in Guatemala has a history of challenges involving insufficient resources, inadequate laws and procedures, and general instability; however, interviews with law enforcement officials and prosecutors show that these areas are improving.
“Homicide rates in Guatemala have declined annually since 2009,” said Wayne Pitts, research criminologist at RTI and the study’s principal investigator. “Our research shows the effect recent improvements in interagency collaborations have on crime. One of the things we found was that collaboration within the criminal justice system affected the decline in homicide rates.”
The study found that recent improvements in local governance coincided with the decline in homicide rates. The quality of forensic investigations also improved due to an increase in police training and technological advancements, and the creation of a police subdivision dedicated to investigating homicides.
The study also revealed that emergency responders who attended to individuals with serious, potentially fatal injuries at the scene of a crime may have improved survival rates. Within health care facilities, emergency room physicians and health care facilitators received supplemental training to improve their capacity to treat victims who have been shot.
In the community, advocacy organizations, including domestic violence shelters, have helped contribute to the investigation and prosecution of violent offenders.
A recent expansion of urban public transportation is also associated with the decline in homicide rates. No homicides or assaults among passengers or drivers have been reported since the development of Transmetro, a rapid transit system, in 2007.
“Transmetro has created a safer environment for bus drivers and passengers by increasing security measures, including added police and surveillance and designing the track to run down the middle of the road with offsetting traffic on either side,” Pitts said. “Transmetro also never makes any unplanned or unofficial stops.”
As part of the study, researchers conducted stakeholder interviews and analyzed secondary data in Guatemala’s three largest municipalities to examine the causes of homicide-related violence, and how homicide rates are declining. As part of a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), RTI led a team of researchers from prominent Guatemalan research agencies including, Incidencia Democratica, Associación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales, and Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala.
The project is a subtask of the Guatemala Violence Prevention Project, led by RTI and funded by USAID. The Guatemala Violence Prevention Program builds awareness of the causes of crime and promotes crime prevention activities using a community-led approach focused on youth in Guatemala.