In Mexico’s most violent state, local residents and business owners are increasingly taking security into their own hands.
There were 93.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in the small Pacific coast state of Colima last year, placing it in the unenviable position of having the nation’s highest homicide rate. Crime statistics have skyrocketed in the space of just three years.
In 2015, the state government reported 189 murders and just under 3,000 robberies but in 2017 those figures increased to 816 and 6,602 respectively.
But the official response has not been enough for the president of a citizens’ committee in the Lomas de Circunvalación neighborhood of the state capital.
“The police don’t fight crime,” said Teresa Chavira Chacón. “The residents, with our own resources, are taking care of ourselves because of the shortage [of police] and the lack of attention and response.”
In 2011, there were just 43 private security companies in the state but that number has now grown to 105.
In a neighborhood in the municipality of Villa de Álvarez, which adjoins the state capital, one local resident convinced her neighbors to band together to create their own community vigilance group in the face of a growing number of home invasions.
Rubí Romero’s initiative spread and now residents of all 24 blocks that make up the Carlos de la Madrid neighborhood have joined the vigilant neighbors’ committee.
They have installed cameras and alarm systems, created a group on the messaging application WhatsApp to alert each other to any danger or suspicious activity and even hired a private security guard to patrol the area.
A community-wide alarm system operates according to an established code.
If a suspicious person is detected in the neighborhood, it sounds for one minute. If a burglary has occurred, it rings for two minutes and if somebody has been murdered it is activated for three minutes.
“When we started to organize, the level of robberies decreased a lot and even the [number of] suspicious people declined because they feel like they are being watched,” Romero told the newspaper Reforma.
Statistics support her claim: over the past 18 months, 20 suspected criminals have been arrested and crime has dropped by 40% in the neighborhood.
Higher levels of crime in the state have also taken a toll on the business sector. One example is the restaurant industry, which suffered a 12% drop in revenue last year. Ten restaurants closed.
The president of the Colima branch of the Mexican Employers Federation, Coparmex, said that many business owners have decided to invest more in their own security measures rather than rely on security authorities to protect them.
“Some have turned to hiring private security guards, some have reinforced their entrances with bars . . . and obviously, with cameras,” Mario Moncada Cantú explained.
The owner of a business that sells cell phones in three different Colima municipalities said that his stores have repeatedly been targeted by criminals, causing him to reconsider plans for expansion.
“There have been times when I didn’t open a new branch out of fear that they are going to extort us or break in,” Eduardo Sánchez said.
Source: Reforma (sp)