July 25, 2014
Crime maps, not more bullets
Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli’s declaration of a “security emergency” last weekend seems far more geared to next year’s elections than to any current realities. Neither the gesture itself nor the specific moves proposed offer anything new. There have been at least seven such declarations this century and indeed Scioli started as governor in late 2007 within the framework of the “security emergency” declared by his predecessor Felipe Solá back in 2004 (this lasted until 2010). Virtually everything — mobilizing up to 15,000 retired policemen (who tend to be even more mixed up in crime than their serving colleagues), bigger budgets, more jail space, accelerating the introduction of municipal policing, etc. — had been announced several times before. Almost the only innovation was making waistcoats with luminous licence numbers compulsory for those on motorcycles but even this is not original — Colombia, a country once tormented by hired killers, introduced this in 2008. Anti-crime packages tend to toe a tough law-and-order line giving the police excessive clout and this one is no exception. Almost the only undeserved criticism would be not consulting the national government — if Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich laid such stress last week on security being a provincial responsibility, this gave Scioli a green light to go ahead on his own.
What Argentina needs is not so much more anti-crime legislation as serious data. There is an inflation of anti-crime laws in Argentina and not just from Scioli — Kirchnerite presidencies have railroaded tough laws through Congress in knee-jerk reaction to the public uproar over the Axel Blumberg, Carolina Píparo and Marita Verón crimes with even such an ultra-Kirchnerite deputy as Diana Conti drafting a bill for stiffer punishment. The reality of crime is beyond any dispute — even the most permissive or abolitionist theorist would not take the trouble to draft or reform a Penal Code against something which does not exist. But crime statistics are lacking or ignored when available. Thus when does the impassioned debate inform the public that Argentina has the lowest murder rate in South America along with Uruguay and Chile (but also an inexorable rise in robberies)? Or that drug-trafficking accounts for 15-20 percent of homicides with the rest mostly an extreme solution to family or personal problems (contrary to common belief, stolen cars are bigger money-spinners than drugs, which is no excuse for inaction against either)?
Anything is better than the people taking the law into their own hands but why not action to chase crime instead of votes?