Políticas de seguridad

A guide to local security management

Written by: Tobías J. Schleider (*)

Security management is a fundamental aspect of contemporary governance, at all levels of the State and especially at the local level. To fully understand this statement, it is necessary to contextualize it. The Latin American reality, of young democracies that have been leaving behind processes of militarization and de facto governments, is also undergoing a restructuring of its security agencies. In this evolution, local governments are called upon to play a central role.

With these ideas as a basis, the Guide for Safer Cities. Herramientas para generar entornos urbanos seguros y libres de miedo desde un enfoque preventivo -with both Spanish and Portuguese versions- aims to guide decision-makers and an interested public in the conceptualization, sizing, planning, design and management of urban policies on citizen safety, emphasizing the tools available for the promotion of effective and quality actions within the competencies of local management.

The Guide is intended for a non-expert reader: ideally, mayors of the region. In order to fulfill its purposes, it makes use of particular resources: plain but precise language, technical (and beautiful) illustrations and specially created infographics. It also contains recommendations, examples of good practices, additional resources for consultation and interesting success stories that show how the ideas contained in its pages have been put into practice.

Local security management. Faced with crime, violence and fear of crime, a mayor faces two main paths. The first is the one that assumes that security policy is related, exclusively or pre-eminently, to criminal policy. If he or she chooses to follow this path, the mayor will be participating in diagnostic and intervention, prevention or investigation proposals, but without being in charge of the main initiative. The second possible path is the one that considers security policy as an urban and local policy. This option understands that insecurity does not stem only from the infringement of criminal or contraventional rules, but is part of a complex, multi-causal phenomenon with effects of different scope and nature, and that it takes on different forms when it comes to women and girls. In the case of deciding on this course of action, the person at the head of the local government will be in a position to lead the processes involved in addressing the problem; to assume more responsibilities, to have the necessary power to make decisions that respond to the concerns and demands of the neighbors of his or her district; to face more intense challenges, but also to offer its own and specific imprint in the solutions that are deployed; to integrate security into its government strategies in all areas of its interference, and to add it to the set of measures to tend to the development of the population it represents. Today, more than ever, the idea that all security policy is local makes sense. Conflicts develop in the territory, and no government body is closer to it, nor knows it better, than the local one. Mayors, mayors, mayors and mayors are the ones who are in the right position to generate coordination with other levels of government. But even in national or state programs and policies, the relevant sphere of application is the local level. Moreover, local governments have more resources for security management than they often realize. The Guide offers guidelines to orient these dynamics so that they result in a better security service and a more peaceful society. After all, inadequate management of local security initiatives can be very costly in economic, political and social terms. Combined with the increased resource requirements and the lack of specific knowledge to manage them, they can become a major obstacle for local governments concerned with restoring the quality of life of their neighbors.

Vulnerability, gender and mobility. Those who govern are obliged to guarantee the necessary means to establish egalitarian parameters for the exercise of rights. And although in the eyes of the law we are all born free and equal, without distinction of sex, race or religion, populations are made up of diverse and plural groups and collectives and, as such, their feelings, sufferings and exposure to violent phenomena are not homogeneous. With regard to the prevention of violence and crime, specific responses are required for each type of situation with prevention strategies and, above all, based on specific prior diagnoses. Vulnerabilities may be determined by many factors, but the issue of gender and, in particular, the prevalence of gender-based violence, expose both women and people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations to risks and harm. Gender-based violence is expressed in multiple forms. One of these forms, little explored, is related to mobility, in the different stages of travel undertaken by women and vulnerable people. These stages range from the moment the trip is planned before leaving home, to the use of the different modes or means available. For their safety, it is very important to consider social factors, the quality of service in the means of transport and the adequate design of stops, equipment and the natural and built environment along the entire mobility system. The Guide also takes into account this aspect of the problem, and assumes, throughout its development, a careful and proactive gender perspective.

Conflict management. Every society alternates between conflicts and cooperation agreements. But analyzing conflict as a transitory instance of social life, which could evolve until it disappears, is the product of utopian thinking that promotes an ideal: «order». In the current Latin American context, this approach predominates. However, if we consider that our continent is the most inequitable on the planet, the fact that societies are conflictive is, in one sense, a good sign: it means that our peoples are not submissive in the face of the unfavorable living conditions that befall them. And this is where the capacity of States, especially local ones, to deal with the omnipresent conflict comes into play. Managing conflict without resorting to violence, authoritarianism or abuses of power – of the State itself or of certain dominant groups over others – is the great challenge that awaits those who are willing to deal with security in a solid manner.

A Guide to Prevention. The Guide is organized into four thematic chapters, each with three sections dealing with more specific topics. They are:

  1. Safe public space. It addresses the promotion of safe public spaces, with three nodal axes of citizen security: situational prevention, recovery of public spaces and reconstruction of the social fabric. It combines analysis, notes on the necessary political leadership, technical knowledge and the voices of its protagonists. Underlying the chapter is the thesis that, just as the physical and social environment in neighborhoods can provide opportunities for crime, its proper design can also be useful for crime prevention.

This chapter has an additional resource: a series of fact sheets on architectural and urban parameters for situational crime prevention, with practical advice on planning with respect to different aspects of urban planning in cities. 

  • Critical territories. Historical centers, informal settlements and tourist attractions are three of the critical territories of cities that the second chapter deals with. The choice of these three urban spaces is based on their relevance and potential to reverse some of the effects of social exclusion. There, security planning can be focused and worked from an intersectoral and preventive perspective.
  • Information and technology. Observatories and analysis centers are added to technology, in chapter three, as tools to address crime and, at the same time, strengthen knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of crime, violence and fear of crime. Information, data and technology make it possible to generate inputs for the design of interventions that respond to the diagnosed problems. Thus, they collaborate with the creation of safe environments and, also, with communities with less fear.
  • Local security governance. Finally, the fourth chapter addresses the issue of security governance at the local level. Just as important as knowing and understanding crime dynamics is planning, coordinating and articulating prevention, control and social reintegration actions between state and parastatal agencies, collective and individual actors, traditional and recently created agencies, given the complexity of the phenomena, their multi-causality and the effects they cause.

What is a «safer city»? The centrality of security as a concern and as a problem is nowadays out of discussion. And two related aspects are becoming increasingly relevant. On the one hand, the idea of citizen security as a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for human development. On the other, the position of local governments in addressing and managing it. It is clear, moreover, that this approach and management must be professional, based on evidence, far from enlightened improvisations and intuitions. With the tools at their disposal, local governments have many alternatives to begin to address security, even if they do not yet realize it. These potentialities have to be updated with the help of different actors, displacing the police from the almost exclusive role they usually play in this area. Thus, special bureaucracies are formed and the technical support of external experts is sought. With this in mind, it is clear that a safer city is a city with a local government that deals with security issues in a modern, dynamic and professional manner, addressing the specific needs of the population and with a portfolio of solutions adapted to the particularities of the territory and its inhabitants; solutions that facilitate access to the opportunities offered by living in an urban environment. In addition, it gives importance to avoiding violence, to the relevance of public spaces as places of collective belonging and to the need to strengthen ties between neighbors. It encourages citizen participation in the design, implementation and evaluation of citizen security projects, which only advances based on information and knowledge and does not abuse technology as if it were an end in itself. It coordinates and articulates with agencies and levels of government, makes use of modern tools that bring police and justice closer to citizens and integrates academic advances and the achievements of other localities to its daily reality. A safer city is a city that controls less and prevents more.

(*) Tobías J. Schleider is an international consultant on citizen security, director of the Local Governments area of the Latin American Institute for Security and Democracy (ILSED), Professor of Comparative Models in Citizen Security at the Universidad Nacional del Sur, Argentina, and co-author of the Guide for Safer Cities.