ICMA has implemented municipal crime and violence prevention programs in Central America and Mexico since 2009. Our work was launched with a regional program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) called Municipal Partnerships for Violence Prevention in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Known by the Spanish acronym AMUPREV, the program focuses on promoting the role of local governments and is designed to build the capacity of local stakeholders to coordinate and carry out crime and violence prevention activities at the local level.
At the time the program began, levels of violence in the region had already climbed to astronomical proportions, and the number of murders exceeded casualties in war zones. In Honduras, for example, murders per 100,000 people reached 86.5 in 2011.1 Since then, the rate has gone down in some cities, although San Pedro Sula, a city in northern Honduras that is considered the country’s economic hub, is still one of the world’s most violent, with a homicide rate of 111 per 100,000.
In Central America and Mexico, policing was (and is) a national rather than a local responsibility. At the time, policing was reactionary (the so-called “iron fist approach”) and little or no attention was being paid by the police to crime prevention, which really fell mostly within the purview of nongovernmental organizations (including faith-based entities) working in vulnerable communities.
Example: Stockton, California
ICMA promoted a partnership between three municipalities in Guatemala and the city of Stockton, California, under the AMUPREV Program in the interest of sharing Stockton’s successful experience in putting together a multi-stakeholder coalition to address and prevent crime. Stockton’s initiative, called the Marshall Plan, is similar to the MPVC model in that it brings together representatives from the city, the criminal justice system, faith-based and nonprofit organizations, the private sector, and neighborhoods to address crime–from stopping violence to preventing it, addressing trauma, reclaiming neighborhoods, and creating a fair, humane, and evidence-based system. The city’s role is as a direct service provider, convener and advocate/support organization.
Crime prevention was not typically viewed as a local government function. Local governments were seen as just another actor, if they were engaged at all, providing support to the elderly, women, and children through community affairs offices or social programs in afflicted communities. Strategies to reduce risk were notably absent, and if these organizations did try to fight crime, it was by funding or advocating for more hardware for law enforcement, such as cameras for the police departments, or more patrols and operatives to sweep whole neighborhoods to arrest gang members and perpetrators of crimes.
Designing a Model
Based on successful practices in the United States, ICMA knew that local governments should be the drivers for crime and violence prevention initiatives and began designing an approach for locally initiated crime prevention committees involving multiple stakeholders. ICMA has now applied this approach or model directly in 26 municipalities in Central America and Mexico. The model consists of creating entities that are led by the municipal mayor and incorporate municipal and national government staff, community and faith-based organizations, private-sector and educational sector representatives, and police to better coordinate and leverage crime and violence prevention initiatives.
We developed a toolkit and identified eight steps to creating what we called Municipal Violence Prevention Committees (MVPCs). We have refined the steps along the way. Nonetheless, they remain the basic building blocks to successfully creating an entity that can bring the community together to take steps to improve quality of life and citizen security. What’s important to understand is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But we identified some common factors of success at each stage of the process. Even though we have applied these in Central America and Mexico, they are just as relevant to cities around the world that are struggling to collaborate more effectively and employ resources more efficiently to provide strategic services to vulnerable and at-risk populations.
Eight Steps to Success
Step 1: Obtain the support of municipal authorities
- Political buy-in is critical. Elected officials have to be convinced first that the community wants politicians to address citizen security. But they also have to understand that they can’t politicize the issue. Good mayors who have benefited from the ICMA program’s assistance have run for reelection on platforms that include their support for the MVPCs.
Step 2: Identify local leaders and institutions to participate
- Do your homework. Although the municipal authorities will have the ultimate say in who gets invited to be part of the MVPC, it’s necessary to understand the municipal government and conduct a social mapping exercise to identify the key players who must have a seat at the table––private-sector organizations, individual leaders and community groups, nongovernmental organizations, and others. New organizations and leaders need to be constantly invited to participate.
Step 3: Formally launch the committee
- The inauguration event is critical. The local authorities must be able to explain the purpose of the MVPC so that its members and the general public see the entity as a participatory, democratic space for coordinating and supporting crime prevention, led by local authorities.
Step 4: Legalize the committee
- The MVPC needs to have a tailored organizational model with rules and regulations regarding the conduct of sessions, membership requirements from different sectors and demographics, roles and responsibilities of members, the directorate and working groups or subcommissions. The MVPC then needs to be presented for formal approval to the municipal council.
Step. 5: Provide training and technical assistance
- At the start, members of the MVPCs will have differing concepts of crime prevention. Initial training is necessary to ensure that they have a common understanding of prevention. Subsequently, training can include topics such as gender and family violence, the role of police in prevention and community-based policing, inclusion of indigenous and marginalized people, child protection, conflict sensitivity, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), and the design and conduct of information and communication campaigns.
Step 6: Assess the current crime and violence situation in the municipality
- The MVPC can cannot begin to draft a strategic plan of action without knowing the main risk factors for violence in the communities as well as those conditions that enable individuals to handle, mitigate, or eliminate the risks, known as protective factors. This should be a highly interactive exercise that draws on community knowledge as well as data from police, health authorities, crime observatories, victimization surveys, studies, and other assessments. This exercise needs to be repeated periodically and the activities of the MVPC need to be continuously informed by data.
Step 7: Develop a strategic plan and annual work plans with member participation
- This is the step at which you will identify the truly committed members! The MVPC Board will lead a strategic prioritization exercise based on the assessment described in step 6 and in line with national and/or municipal-level policies in crime and violence prevention, if they exist. Strategic plans should span several years, and work plans must be done annually, with resources allocated in the municipal budget. Work plans should include achievable objectives so that members can see results. Municipal departments must be brought into this process so they can understand how they fit into the plan and contribute to it.
Step 8: Carry out the plans and monitor progress
- Implementation is the fun part, but stay focused and show results! If you can’t point to concrete results, members may drop off. It’s important to design a monitoring and evaluation system from the beginning and hold regular evaluations of progress and results. Emphasize accountability and sharing results with the community.
ICMA’s experience is that these committees are challenging, and election transitions are always difficult, but they have made a real difference. MVPCs have been instrumental in helping to identify and support strategic services and opportunities to reduce violence risk factors in communities throughout Central America and in selected cities in Mexico.
1 Data from the National Violence Observatory, an academic research institution based in Honduras, cited in the Honduras 2016 Crime & Safety Report issued by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Accessed November 14, 2016.