RISE post, Security policies

Limits of public security policies: analysis of three urban security experiences

This document is a synthesis of the debate of the RISE plenary session 15-02-2022 based on presentations by Gonzalo Garate1, Franz Vandershueren2, Beatriz Elena Hernández Chaverra3 and conclusions by Amadeu Recasens4.

From RISE, we propose to continue our open dialogue meetings on different aspects of security, such as the meeting on «the question of statistical data». In this new plenary session, based on the analysis of three urban security experiences, we would like to consider «the limits of public security policies«.

Insecurity is persistently and problematically present in our societies. However, hegemonic security policies and models contribute to aggravating the situation. 

Innovation in security policies involves, among other elements, building security policies that go beyond punitive populism and tactical preventionism, that aspire to neutralize the causes of insecurity, from a cross-cutting perspective in terms of the actors and scope of public policies to be mobilized, and that place citizens at the center both in terms of attention to victims and respect for their rights, and to promote their real involvement in the different phases of design, implementation, and evaluation of public security policies.

There are experiences in the implementation of security policies at the local or state level that, with varying degrees of consolidation, have integrated (or have attempted to do so) innovative elements in security policies. Based on the analysis of three concrete experiences, in this RISE plenary session, we invite you to unravel the structuring elements of concrete policies and the limits that their implementation has presented in practice, in order to understand how to approach security policies from alternative and innovative spaces.

Report Gonzalo Gárate: «The police reform model in Madrid».

In 2015, «Ahora Madrid», a left-wing party emerging from social movements, heads the municipal government of Madrid after 25 years of right-wing governments. The fit between the new government and the largest municipal police force in Spain has been complicated since the beginning of the mandate. 

Within the framework of the cross-cutting municipal program «Madrid City of Care», different lines of reform of the security and police model are being promoted, included in the Master Plan of the Madrid Municipal Police. The main ones:

– Implementation of a working model based on prevention and multidisciplinary work (with social workers, meters…).

– Co-production of security through the articulation of dialogue tables between citizens and the police. 

– Implementation of actions for the enhancement of rights, with the creation of a police unit for diversity management (to address discrimination, hate crimes, etc.) and the implementation of the PIPE program (program for effective police identification) aimed at avoiding identifications by ethnic profiling.

– Implementation of an ethics committee, along the lines of the one in place in the British police.

– Reduction of central intervention units with riot control functions.

During the municipal mandate, which was not renewed in the following municipal elections, it was possible to implement some aspects of the reform, against which the police were more favorable, such as a certain preventive and transversal approach to the problems. The training was provided in this regard and it was possible to increase the number of preventive assistances and interventions, as opposed to merely reactive actions. On the other hand, co-production strategies could not be implemented. It was also possible to successfully implement the diversity management unit, which is still in place. On the other hand, the creation of the ethics committee, which never saw the light of day, and the PIPE program generated more resistance.

One of the main conclusions derived from this experience is that it is very difficult to make and establish cultural changes in a police organization in such a short period of time. Impregnating the police with the logic of care also requires transforming the community so that demand emerges from the community.


Presentation by Franz Vandershueren: «Innovations in urban security policies in Latin America».

It investigates different police models in Latin American countries. From a perspective that recognizes the great inequalities existing in the populations.

The synthesis presented is based on the study of some municipalities in Mexico, the interventions of the Carabineros in Chile, and the new Police of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The most urbanized cities in Latin America are the most violent in the world, with a homicide rate of 24 x 100,000 inhabitants compared to 6 in Europe. Cities where organized crime thrives, with high growth of collateral crimes such as human trafficking.

In these cities, organized crime deeply affects the social fabric, especially in highly vulnerable populations, since crime deepens social fragmentation and generates interpersonal conflicts due to insecurity.

One element taken into account is the competition between private security that coexists and outnumbers public security.

These cities can be classified, by way of ideal types, into:

● Affluent neighborhoods, of the most economically well-off people, such as gated communities;

● Normal neighborhoods are middle class, where public security works more or less well;

● Vulnerable neighborhoods and neighborhoods of chronic violence, they are the majority and have the highest crime rates, where public security functions weakly.

In neighborhoods of chronic violence, crime generates a fragmented social fabric, where perverse social capital and corruption have hegemony over the territory. It is, therefore, necessary to rebuild community ties.

Although there are various perspectives for a change in the approach to security in the municipalities, in general, they have failed. The most advanced cities have attempted mediocre and unsuccessful police reforms.

Their proposals and areas of approach for a public safety extended to all citizens are as follows:

1. Cities are moving from citizen security to human security.

2. The police should move from legality to legitimacy.

3. Prevention should aim at community resilience at the neighborhood level.

In order to move from citizen security to human security, emphasis should be placed on the management of multiple individual vulnerabilities and not only focus on crime. With the valorization of public spaces for the enjoyment of people as a space for diversity and coexistence. Focusing on work on and with minorities and vulnerable groups, and not only on street crime.

Organize community policing, based on criteria for evaluating such policing considering the generation of trust, the professional identity of the community police, and the capacity to strengthen community resilience. It implies a perspective of co-production of security between the police and civil society.

The community resilience approach implies a work in the neighborhoods, which assumes the differentiated neighborhood contexts, especially in the last two groups (vulnerable neighborhoods and chronic violence). This task must be respectful of the times of each territory, with planning that includes a neighborhood map and the search for territorial governance with collective effectiveness, generating an alliance with the police, giving the necessary time to strengthen mutual trust, adding the will of joint intervention for the construction of the common good.

It is therefore essential to overcome the traditional public security that focuses exclusively on crime and, in this way, favors above all the care of the wealthier classes.

As an alternative, human security makes it possible to address the problem from a multiple security perspective, from the municipality, education, that is, from the various aspects of human life.

The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of human security, but at the same time, proposals have been developed that slowly deal with the reconstruction of the social fabric.


Presentation by Beatriz Elena Hernández Chaverra: «Experience in Medellín with a community-based security program».

The experience of the city of Medellin during the administration of Anibal Gaviria in 2015 is presented. The main objective of the public security policy was respect for life in the face of the homicide situation, on average every 6 hours a young person was murdered, aged between 14 and 28 years old.

From the development plan as the first tool of the policy, the Comprehensive Plan for Security and Coexistence, the plan for the prevention of violations of the rights to life and integrity, and the territorial instruments for interventions were created. 

The governance with leadership approach included strategies such as working in coordination with the different organizations, headed by the local government committee. It also promoted training the community to exercise citizen oversight.

From the territory, there are certain limitations and challenges that have arisen in the implementation of the security policy and plans:

Homicide reduction was achieved but theft and insecurity of people have increased. There was a moment when homicides decreased but disappearances increased. In order not to heat up the territories, they no longer murder people but disappear them. Disappearances were known through social networks, the photos of the disappeared young people. There are cases that according to the community are known where they are, in isolated territories where the authorities do not go or are not reported. 

Mistrust between the communities and the police. Lack of trust in the police because of their actions. There is a perception that the police do not generate security.

The execution of strategies in the territory is different because the communities participate with fear, for example, women are contributing instruments but they have had to camouflage them under codes to create tools for intervention strategies.

Femicides have increased. The programs for women have been presented in generalities. Women are not mentioned in the other plans.

The measures are not effective, the attention routes are very precarious, and there are no guarantees for access to justice. It is difficult to reach the denouncement sites because they are far from the houses. It is very difficult to get women out of the house so that they can participate.

A serious event must happen for sexual harassment violence to be investigated; there are no guarantees. Regarding peace issues, there are programs that deal with displacement, but there is no articulation. 

Mistrust is also perceived by the institutions. The communities do not believe in the institutions because it takes longer for the person to file a complaint than for the authority to tell the armed group that they reported it.

Extortion. for example, the armed groups have control of the family basket, and a cart of eggs from a distribution company did not come back here to the commune. They go to the distributor, supply the shopkeepers and force them to buy. They have taken over the areperías and initiatives that arise as business ventures, they charge for the vaccinations and manage to take over or stay with the different ventures, displacing the families that had the venture.

They also charge for the distribution of gas, the micro-trafficking plazas on every corner, and the handling of food. They charge households for the security vaccine called «la vigilada», it is part of their financing, in other communities, they charge businesses to buy products such as tamales, and rice pudding.

Regarding street fights, for example, if two young people fight, they charge them fines, they charge them with weapons or ammunition, if they don’t give them the weapon, they ask them how much the weapon is worth because if they go to buy the weapon or ask in another territory, they accuse them of being with another armed group. These are other forms of financing.

With the group of conflicts and violence of the security observatory of human security of the University of Antioquia, community participation and advocacy processes have been achieved.


RISE synthesis of the meeting, by Amaudeu Recasens.

First of all, he thanks all of you who have participated in this session, Gonzalo, Franz, Beatriz, and those who have asked very interesting questions, highlighting that all the interventions are in line with what RISE is.

In what sense? In the sense that when RISE was founded, there was a deficit of public policies from a current of thought, let’s call it, left-wing, progressive. So this could only be done if a conceptual corpus is really created from this left, but at the same time, yes, and only if, there is the capacity to apply it in the street, in the day-to-day. That is to say, if there is the capacity to generate, schedule, apply, and evaluate public security policies from our perspective. In this sense, the presentations have been along these lines.

Gonzalo’s experiences are similar to those of different cities in Spain, such as Barcelona, La Coruña, Zaragoza, among others, in very similar governments where this change was really promoted, with the lights and shadows he has described. For his part, Franz, from a general framework, very pertinent and very much needed, has raised the issue of human security from multiple examples and has introduced something that Beatriz has then deepened, that we are talking from different frameworks (social, cultural) although we are united by a language, an affection, we speak from different frameworks that must be understood as such to be able to establish lowest common denominators.  Finally, Beatriz has raised a street situation, a vivid problem, which is exactly what RISE intends to understand in order not to remain in intellectual or academic spaces.

He underlines four concepts, four points to highlight Amadeu’s particular vision, therefore there is no neutrality in this synthesis, he expresses that «I am going to take the points that I have understood that were of interest to me and also, in part, to RISE».

He refers to the transversality of prevention. This idea of transversality is linked to the idea of prevention. This management of multiple vulnerabilities and multiple groups is referred to by the three speakers. The vulnerabilities of groups of people, such as women, as emphasized by Beatriz, the vulnerabilities mentioned by Franz (this concept of Zaffaroni, of the crime of carrying one’s face), this idea of selectivity when it comes to choosing people to be controlled by the police.

The second point to highlight is this idea of public space as a space of cities, of this space where things happen, this agora, this place where there is urbanism, this territory where there is power. These games are important.

The third aspect, which has been raised by the three speakers, is the issue of resilience and the co-production of policies. This is a concern for RISE: this idea of not letting policies be made by those in power, let alone letting policies be made by organized crime. Here is an excursus on the topic that brings us together, organized crime appears, which is of interest to many of those present, so it is necessary to focus on these new economies of criminality that affect the economy of security. It is an interesting topic to return to in the future.

Finally, the idea that we have to work with plans, for the first time we are thinking about this and it is important. The idea of making plans for the cities, of making plans for the police, of trying to establish lines of work that allow us to move forward with a reasonable knowledge of what is being done and not simply jumping ahead as is usually done, or reacting, as often happens in public policies. This aspect is emphasized by Gonzalo, Franz, and Beatriz. We want to know what works and what doesn’t. Why? Because it is a way to identify the problems and a way to begin to know how to solve them.

It has been identified that there are many cases of rejection of the police. This division that occurs between the police and the citizenry, the Italians called it Corpus Separate in the 1950s, this idea that they are bodies separated from society. It is necessary to introduce these ties, but how can they be reintroduced to a citizenry that does not like the police? When the police present traits of corruption in many cases that should be eradicated. This rejection, Amadeu considers, is not so much to the police but to their way of doing things, to their corporative way of working, which is why there is a need for a new security model, a new police model that is different from corporatism.

He explains that «the problem of the police, and you have heard me say this a few times, is that the police are not professional, it is still a guild, it has not acquired the status of a profession, it is still a guild. And in this guild there are not only the problems of corruption and ethical malpractice, which we have also underlined with our need to go towards codes of ethics», and continues because that «that corporate police that wants to work as little as possible and with the little inconvenience as possible. And in that sense, human rights are an inconvenience, they do not let them work at ease. So it is a problem that they want to work as little as possible, as comfortably as possible, and as efficiently as possible.»

In this meeting, it has been proposed training, more effort for more prevention and less repression in terms of the police model, it can be said that basically this new profession must be based on codes of ethics, ethics committees on values, and above all on an important issue, which Franz has emphasized, is the issue of culture. Everyone has said it: the issue of police culture.

Police culture cannot be changed in the short term, nor is it useful to attack the culture directly, because then it generates more resilience on the part of the police, but it is essential to change organizations and functions that reach to change the culture. But it requires a very long-term movement and that means generating spaces, as Beatriz said, also of trust, effectiveness, and, as Gonzalo has underlined, the police cannot do it alone. This change cannot be made by the police alone, even if they wanted to. Therefore, the police and the community have to recognize each other. They have to make this co-production, this knowledge of the social environment, and recognize the vulnerabilities

To achieve these changes, which have already been emphasized by Gonzalo, Franz, and Beatriz, there are long-term tasks and also have to be articulated with short-term tasks because changes are needed in the immediate.

Amadeu emphasized once again that the presentations are fully in line with the founding movement of RISE and, therefore, he considers that as an organization «we are very grateful to those who have intervened and to those who have participated in this plenary session».

He concludes by encouraging us to continue working along these lines and to continue to support this effort that is already taking shape and to maintain this desire for change in public security policies «from a progressive perspective, left-wing or whatever you want to call it. Thank you all very much».

  1. Gonzalo has a degree in Sociology from the Complutense University of Madrid. He has been involved in social movements in the city since the late 90s, mainly those linked to self-managed social centers and the university environment. He began working in entities linked to the social and solidarity economy, also worked in the Diagonal Newspaper predecessor of El Salto, and later was part of the team that accompanied the councilor of Health, Safety, and Emergencies in the government of the Madrid City Council in 2015. Subsequently, she has worked as a participation technician in processes with young people.
  2.  Franz is a professor and researcher. His studies focus on urban security policies. D. in Sociology, University of Paris. Director of the Center for Urban Security and of the Master in «Prevention, Urban Security and Criminal Police» and professor at Alberto Hurtado University. International advisor and consultant to several cities and governments, as well as to the United Nations and international organizations on the issues of citizen security, prevention, and police reform. Former coordinator and founder of the «Safer Cities» program of the United Nations (1995-2001) and advisor to the «Global Network of Safer Cities» of UN HABITAT. (2012-2021). Author of several publications on the subject of citizen security and prevention. Member of the Coordinating Unit for the Reform of Carabineros de Chile (2021).
  3. Beatriz is a community researcher. Experience in Medellín community-based security program. Popular feminist woman in daily construction, member of the Observatorio de Seguridad Humana de Medellín (Observatory of Human Security of Medellín) that deals with the investigation of conflicts and violence attached to the Universidad de Antioquia, member of the coordination of women of the northeastern zone of Medellín, artisans of life, peacebuilders and of diverse processes of women that work on the prevention of gender-based violence.
  4. Amadeu is a founding member of RISE. An expert in security and police matters, he holds a doctorate in law from the University of Barcelona and a higher diploma in criminology from the Institute of Criminology of the University of Barcelona and was the director-general of Modernisation of the Administration of the Generalitat de Catalunya from November 2007 to January 2011. Previously, he was commissioner of the Centre for Studies and Security (2004-2007); director of the Police School of Catalonia (1996-2004); director of the Studies and Prospective Office of the Secretariat of State for the Interior of the Ministry of Justice and the Interior (1994-1996) and head of the studies and documentation section of the School of Public Administration of Catalonia (1989-1991), among others. He is a Council of Europe expert on security and policy issues. In the academic field, he has been a lecturer in the Department of Criminal Law and Criminal Sciences at the University of Barcelona, the School of Criminology at the University of Oporto, and lecturer on master’s degrees and courses in countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Italy, France, Portugal, and Algeria. Recasens is also a member of the Scientific Committee of GERN (Group Européen de Recherches Sur las Normativités) and the author of numerous scientific publications in the field of police and security.

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