• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

"We have offered all this technology and programs to the state [police]. We have held two or three meetings with them. First they are amazed that we have all these statistics. And they're very willing to work with us, give us facilities to get more information so we can give them feedback. This is a win-win situation for everyone. Everybody lowers their crime rates, and the city, the people will benefit."

Rubio's ideas and inspiration originated with a female doctor in Cali, the city whose name is more famous for the cartel named after it. Along with Medellín, Cali is one of the most violent cities on earth. But this is where, since 1993, Dr. Victoria Espitia has been systematically examining what she calls the "epidemiology of violence."

"I met her at a conference in El Paso, and I realized how important this could be for Mexico," says Rubio Soto. "Her method provides not just a map, but an X-ray of the city, its problems, and the multitude of causes that contribute to the situation."

It was a plan born of desperation. "We had to do something," says Espitia by phone from Cali. "When we began [in 1993], we had 1833 murders in that one year. That was just in Cali." (At the time, the city was slightly bigger than Tijuana, with 1.8 million inhabitants.) "In 1994 we had 2061 homicides," she continues. "Our country has the highest rate of homicide in Latin America." By chance, in 1993, Cali elected an epidemiologist, Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero, to be its mayor. He ordered Espitia, also an epidemiologist (doctors who study medical trends by use of statistics), to establish a database of murders, fatal accidents, and suicides in the city. Cali became the first city in Latin America to methodically track and analyze such deaths. With good data to base decisions on, says Espitia, intelligent policy followed.

Because Espitia's data revealed a heavy correlation between alcohol, festival weekends, and murder (firearms were used in 90 percent of murders, she found), the mayor banned the carrying of handguns on holidays and instituted closing hours for liquor-dispensing businesses, thus limiting the rise in the murder rate. Because so many traffic deaths involved motorcycles, he enforced helmet-wearing and nearly halved motorcycle deaths.

Espitia has since helped create similar programs in Montevideo (Uruguay), Quito (Ecuador), and Tegucigalpa (Honduras -- where it anchors the city's new "War on Violence"). Most recently she has observed the "Cops and Docs" program in Atlanta, Georgia, part of a comparable surveillance system in the U.S.

Espitia thinks her program can work in Tijuana. "I think [a surveillance program] is very important because Tijuana is very similar to Cali; the violence is similar: narco-traffickers, drugs. The most important thing is to use all sources of data -- not just police but health, forensic authorities, district attorneys. And to share the information with the people, not to keep it locked up in government reports. Also to make sure you have your top authorities behind you."

For the next two years at least, Rubio has no worries there. Tijuana mayor Francisco Vega de la Madrid, whose term lasts until the end of 2001, solidly supports his program. And it seems local cops do too, if Javier Viruete is any indication. Viruete is chief of police for Tijuana's southern district of San Antonio de los Buenos. Today he has come into Rubio's office to be briefed on all accidents that have occurred in his area, to get profiles on perpetrators and victims, and to hear suggestions for improving his dangerous traffic spots. "This is brand new. It's great," Viruete says as he pores over masses of multicolored dots in his territory. He is one of many police chiefs coming to look at the database for the first time. "Based on this," says staffer David Limón, who has been briefing Viruete, "he will start a program of prevention."

Limón, a lawyer, is also helping create the crime maps. "[They] will be the culmination of this effort," he says.

Sandoval sounds positively idealistic when contemplating the possibilities created by Rubio's program. "We [now] know the people who are committing the crimes are [often] from another neighborhood. Let's go and work on that neighborhood so we can prevent the [continuing] crimes in the first neighborhood. We won't lower the crime rates just by using the police force. In those areas where we are having the most problems, send in other programs, like cultural programs, like sports programs...."

But Sandoval also knows a surveillance program in itself is no panacea. He has worries about the state of law enforcement itself. "When the military was [helping] the PGR [state police in Baja California], things seemed to be under control. Then, last November-December, the military departed. And when they took off from Tijuana is when these [drug-related murders] started increasing. So now only a dozen federal agents are looking after drug crimes in Tijuana.... You make your own conclusions."

Sandoval suspects Rubio's statistics will make reality harder for politicians to ignore. "If we work with the state police, we should be able to have a crime map of the city later this year. That way we can know where to focus more attention on the problem. The most important thing," he concludes, "is that we're getting results. With these maps we can see what's happening in our city. Daily. We can create a tailor-made suit for the city. If you have statistics that prove your program works, there's not a politician who can ignore that."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!