PALMIRA, COLOMBIA – A unique program in the city of Palmira, Colombia has successfully reduced the city’s murder rate by 29 percent to 42.9 homicides per 100,000 residents, the lowest in 17 years. The program, utilizing an epidemiological approach, aims to identify homicide clusters and provide family support, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people. With a budget of just over a million pounds, the program has transformed the lives of 30,000 young people, reclaiming public spaces from gangs and offering hope for a better future.
One of the program’s main objectives is to keep teenagers in the education system and provide extracurricular activities in sport and music, offering them alternatives to a life of crime. The approach has been lauded for its success in reducing violent crime, with the city’s mayor attributing the decline to the city’s commitment to social innovation, rather than relying solely on traditional security measures.
In contrast to the success in Palmira, El Salvador’s “mano dura” or iron fist security crackdown faced heavy criticism from human rights organizations and security experts. While the strategy led to a temporary reduction in the country’s murder rate, experts argue that focusing on law enforcement alone is not a long-term solution to the region’s murder epidemic.
Homicide, like Covid-19, is ultimately a treatable disease. Experts emphasize the need for a more holistic strategy that addresses the social roots of gangs and provides opportunities for gang members to transition to a more conventional life.
Recognizing the success of the public health approach in Palmira, many Latin American politicians are now considering similar approaches to reduce their own countries’ murder rates. This shift towards social-based interventions, though less immediate and requiring more financial investment, holds promise for addressing the complex issue of gang violence in the region.