Research on police issues in Latin America

In Latin America, despite more than two decades of public and political concern about crime, government responses are far from effective and the police is still part of the problem.

LDammertLucía Dammert is Associate Professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile, with more than 15 years of experience on crime and violence research in Latin America.  She has published books and papers in academic journals and is an International Ambassador to the British Society of Criminology.

 

Crime and violence in Latin America are problems with serious consequences. Not only are the highest homicide rates in the world located in this region, but also street crime affects most Latin Americans on a daily basis. Despite more than two decades of public and political concern about this situation, government responses are far from effective.

The police is still part of the problem. In most countries, police institutions are slowly acquiring information systems that allow them to better understand the problem they are facing. While some promising cases of hot spot patrol programs have been implemented, their results are localized. Moreover, criminological research on police is recent and focus mostly on specific issues such as the use of violence, corruption, and institutional reform initiatives.

Contrary to the broad development of research on police issues, for instance at the BSC, in Latin America police information is still opaque limiting the possibility of conducting studies. Lack of trust between researchers and governments have narrowed research possibilities and the importance of security issues in electoral processes have built a “Chinese wall” for any project that could portray challenges or difficulties of police work.

In this context, and to further contribute to the field, I have conducted two research projects related to police actions in Peru during 2018. Results are currently under review for publication. The first project analyzes the processes of policy diffusion, specifically community policing. Through a participant observation process in 20 police precincts in Lima and more than 80 interviews with members of the police and experts in the field, I was able to analyze Peruvian community policing. Although the police declare that community policing is implemented because it has been proven to be a “best practice” in most northern police institutions, there are important discrepancies in the field. In that sense the research not only broadens knowledge on policy diffusion processes but also sheds light on police adoption and adaptation of internationally approved initiatives. Diffusion brings confusion when there is little opportunity to monitor and evaluate how policing strategies are developed in the field.

The second research project focuses on the concept of street-level bureaucracy and analyzes the gap between the regulatory frameworks of the Peruvian government on gender violence and police action when women report situations of violence or abuse. The fieldwork was done in the city of Lima and shows that discretionary powers of street-level police officers redefine public policy and, far from protecting the victim, confronts it with limited budget for infrastructural investments, modernization of training capabilities and old fashioned management practices. Furthermore, police personnel generally face short term education programs that are not enhanced with regular training programs. Based on qualitative data gathered during two months of participant observation in special offices dedicated to “family issues” at police precincts, the results showed that discretionary power of police officers could erode national legal frameworks and public policy initiatives. Also, the research showed that there is limited social protection networks available to protect women (and their children) and that police response is important to avoid the revictimization of women.

The importance of the academic literature and the debates that take place in the BSC are an opportunity to advance the knowledge of multiple issues that have been explored insufficiently in Latin America. This is not only fundamental to confirm theoretical proposals that have been developed in the north, but also to propose new perspectives that will shape southern criminology.

Contact

Lucía Dammert, University of Santiago, Chile

Email: lucia.dammert@usach.cl

Twitter: @lucia.dammert

Linkedin: Lucia Dammert

 

Copyright free image: from Flickr

Crime as a Cascade Phenomenon

Cascades of Violence deploys data from across South Asia to conclude that war tends to cascade across space and time.

Professor John Braithwaite is a Distinguished Professor and Founder of RegNet (the Regulatory Institutions Network) at the Australian National University. He was awarded the BSC Outstanding Achievement Award in 2017 and is an Honorary member of the Society.

Braithwaite and D’Costa’s (2018) Cascades of Violence can be downloaded for free here

This post sketches why it could be analytically fertile to view crime as a cascade phenomenon. Once we see crime through the cascade lens, we can imagine how to more effectively cascade crime prevention. Like crime, crime prevention often cascades. Braithwaite and D’Costa show how peacemaking cascades nonviolence. Happily, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that nonviolence is also a cascade phenomenon. Hence, seeing crime through the cascade lens opens up fertile ways of imagining a macrocriminology of crime control. Self-efficacy and collective efficacy are hypothesized as catalysts of crime prevention cascades in the macrocriminology that interests me.

Cascade phenomena are defined as those that spread to multiply instances of themselves, or to create contagions of related phenomena. Cascade explanations are staples across the physical and biological sciences: the cascading of particles in particle physics, cascading of particular particles called bacteria and viruses with infectious diseases, environmental cascades to climate change, cascading of liquids (lava, water) in the geological formation of planets. In the social sciences, cascade explanations have also been common in the writing of Rosenau, Schelling, Sunstein , Kuran, Sikkink and Gladwell, among others. With crime, we have long known that people are more likely to cheat on their taxes if they perceive a lot of cheating among others and that contagion effects are particularly likely with high profile crimes such as hijackings, assassinations, kidnappings, suicide bombing and spates of serial killing.

Non-criminologists have been more fascinated by cascade possibilities than criminologists. Mathematician Quetelet in 1835 was puzzled by the high statistical variance in crime across space and time. Economists often puzzle further that this variance is so huge compared to variables that are seen as candidates for explaining variation. This leads to the hypothesis that cascading on itself might provide a better explanation than exogenous changes in rational incentives driven by costs and benefits of crime. They point out that interactions among people could cascade to explain the variance. If one crack cocaine dealer interacts with five others to persuade them that becoming a dealer is smart, and each of them so persuades five others, and so on, then this dynamic can multiply huge space-time variance between a point in space-time where that process takes off and others where there has been no cascade.

Information cascades where people make decisions on the basis of their observations of other peoples’ actions seem particularly attractive for explaining why criminal behaviors like looting or rioting are normally near zero, but can multiply quickly once someone starts a stampede. Herding into illegal tax shelters is likewise an information cascade phenomenon according to my 2005 book, Markets in Vice, Markets in Virtue. Braithwaite and D’Costa note that more common kinds of crime also behave like wars in this regard, as they sought integrated explanation of crime-war clusters. They point out that the best explanation of whether your house will be burgled in the next six months in many countries can be whether it was burgled in the last six months; and likewise, the best explanation of whether your country will suffer a war this year may be whether it suffered another in the past three years. Whether the house next door was burgled or the country next door convulsed by war are also good predictors.

When Lawrence Sherman and other criminologists found that crime was concentrated at three per cent of the addresses of large cities and that policing strategies concentrated at those hot spots could substantially reduce crime at them, the natural reaction of criminologists was cynical. Our cynicism was directed at the hypothesis that criminals will respond by shifting their crime from old hot spots to nearby locales, or to create new hot spots.  Subsequent research did not bear out this displacement hypothesis.  Indeed, it showed not only that hot spot policing reduced crime at the hot spot, but it also had positive spillovers in reducing crime to lesser degrees in areas surrounding hot spots. Why did not criminologists then proceed with a sense of excitement at the surprise of having their expectations reversed? Why not explore and develop a converse theory that there may be cascade effects of crime prevention success?  Criminologists tend not to respond to overturned cynicism with excitement at the opportunity to build theory on new inductive insights, preferring to move on to cynicism about something else.

Reframing crime as a cascade phenomenon implies a shift from focus on individual offenders to building a new macrocriminology. Such a reframed macrocriminology is my current work-in-progress. Braithwaite and D’Costa’s study of cascades of violence across South Asia was a considerable empirical undertaking that could, perhaps, be submitted as a proof of concept, though no more than that. The conclusions of that book about war are undoubtedly more important than those about crime, particularly in showing what can be done with the insight that the best way of protecting ourselves from future wars is to stop getting into current ones. Yet a neglected reason for the importance of that policy work is that war and crime cascade into each other so profoundly.

My suspicion is that the cascade lens could illuminate a good framework for the kind of macrocriminological reframing that can make a fist of big patterns in the evolution of crime such as why western societies have dramatically less violent crime than they had centuries ago; why so many Latin American societies have so much more criminal violence than other regions; why East Asian societies have experienced dramatic reductions in violence for half a century or more; why in the same period the United States has had a higher crime rate than other Western societies. Mainstream criminology devotes remarkably little attention to such macro patterns compared to the attention mainstream economics devotes to why certain spaces and times have superior growth, or mainstream political science to why some spaces and times are less democratic, more authoritarian.

How could a framework like control theory be seen by many criminologists as one of the most empirically supported of all theories without confronting it with macro questions such as whether it really makes sense to say that the United States has so much more crime than Canada, Europe, Australia or Japan because Americans are less able to control their impulses? My proposal is that conceiving crime as a cascade phenomenon is one possibility for a better path to reconfiguration of criminological theory.

Contact

Professor John Braithwaite, School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University.

Email: John.Braithwaite@anu.edu.au

Website: http://johnbraithwaite.com/

Copyright free image: from author.

For LGBT People, Criminal Justice Equality Remains Elusive

While same-sex sexual activity is no longer criminalised in much of the Western world, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is growing, full equality for LGBT people before the law and criminal justice systems remains elusive.

Matthew Ball Author image

Dr Matthew Ball, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

 

 

While same-sex sexual activity is no longer criminalised in much of the Western world, and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is growing, full equality for LGBT people before the law and criminal justice systems remains elusive. Taking stock of some of these inequalities in Australia, the USA, and the UK reveals some startling insights into the extent of this inequality, and highlights where criminal justice practitioners, governments, and communities must continue to fight for change.

The ‘Bathroom Bills’ recently proposed in some US states are clear examples of recent attempts to reinforce legal inequality. These laws intend to force people to use public bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate, whether or not this aligns with their gender identity. These laws specifically (and deliberately) intend to expose transgender people to possible legal sanctions simply for using facilities that align with their gender, and force them to use facilities in which they may be at risk of violence. In Queensland, Australia, the homosexual advance (or ‘gay panic’) defence was only removed in March 2017. This legal defence allowed murder charges to be reduced to manslaughter if the deceased ‘made a pass’ at the perpetrator, to which the perpetrator reacted violently. This was an acceptable legal defence for a gay hate crime – one that South Australia has yet to remove. These laws play on old ideas that LGBT people are deceptive or predatory, and pose a threat, whether to children or heterosexuality.

While governments have recently expunged the criminal records of those convicted under sodomy laws, and issued formal apologies to LGBT people for government and police behaviour, for many LGBT people, the damage to their lives has been done. They may have lost jobs – or been unable to apply for others – because of their criminal record. In some jurisdictions, despite having had consensual sex with another adult who just happened to be the same sex, they may have had to register as a sex offender. The historic criminalisation of LGBT people thus casts a long shadow.

It might be less surprising that LGBT people remain the victims of some truly horrific hate crimes. The recent murders of fourteen-year-old Giovanni Melton and eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, allegedly committed by their fathers who feared having gay sons, highlight the extreme family violence often directed at LGBT people. Hate-motivated violence from strangers also remains a significant issue. For example, while there is debate over whether to classify the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in the US as a terrorist attack or hate crime, the fact remains that most of the 49 victims were Latino LGBT people.

These are certainly extreme events and receive significant media coverage. However, the everyday forms of victimisation that LGBT people experience often remain overlooked. In Australia, it has taken recent debates over marriage equality and the Safe Schools anti-bullying program to expose the largely invisible undercurrent of homophobia and transphobia impacting on LGBT people. This has been lent some political legitimacy by prominent politicians such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has very publicly stated that ‘It’s OK to say No’ to marriage equality. This has also limited progress in other areas where LGBT people experience significant victimisation. Evidence suggests that LGBT people experience domestic violence and ‘revenge porn’-related offences just as much, or at higher rates, than non-LGBT people, and yet this research has not translated into visible public campaigns to address these offences.

A key aspect of the inequalities experienced by LGBT people in the criminal justice system is their interactions with police. Unsurprisingly, given the historical role of the police as a source of injustice and discrimination in their lives – whether by arresting them for same-sex sexual activity, failing to take their victimisation seriously, or committing acts of violence against them – many LGBT people remain reluctant to report victimisation to the police. This has a very direct impact on their access to justice.

Police services have taken great strides in many respects to improve their relationships with LGBT people. I’ve spoken to many police officers who demonstrate a real commitment to change. The Queensland Police Service recently released a powerful video of officers talking about the struggles they have faced as LGBT people themselves. In 2016, Constable Mairead Devlin, a transgender police officer, raised a rainbow flag to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) at Queensland Police headquarters. Similar visible symbols of support are not unusual across the UK and USA, with police services increasingly participating in LGBT-related campaigns, such as Wear it Purple Day or IDAHOT. While these attempts to shape the ‘public image’ of the police can be dismissed as symbolic, these symbols are nevertheless powerful. They may actually lead to a victim of hate crime reporting to police as opposed to suffering in silence.

But healing the historical rifts between the LGBT community and the police is challenging. Even where significant progress has been made over decades to do so, it only takes one incident – or one homophobic or transphobic officer – to open up old wounds. The violent arrest of Jamie Jackson Reed, a young gay man, at the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which was filmed and subsequently circulated online, led to questions about just how committed police were to LGBT people, even in the Australian city considered the most progressive on these issues. Incidents such as these have a disproportionate impact on the levels of trust LGBT people have in the police. And they only entrench the difficulties that LGBT people experience accessing justice.

The barriers that LGBT people encounter accessing justice also appear in the harshest part of the criminal justice system – imprisonment. And nothing illustrates this more than the experiences of transgender inmates, who have long encountered significant and unique inequalities here. Transgender inmates have been uniquely impacted by our long-standing tendency to house male and female prisoners separately, based on the sex assigned to them at birth and not on the basis of their gender identity – regardless of whether or not they have undergone any kind of hormonal, surgical, or social transition. This means that transgender prisoners have continually experienced institutional misgendering, and had restricted access to gender-appropriate clothing or personal items, hormones, and transition processes.

These policies have had serious and compounding impacts on transgender inmates. Not only have they impacted significantly on their mental health, but they have also put them at risk of violence from other inmates. The unique vulnerabilities of transgender inmates have often led to them being housed in high-security areas or solitary confinement, not because of any wrongdoing on their part, but for their ‘protection’ from other prisoners. The resulting increase in security measures governing their lives in prison has further limited their ability to express their gender identity while incarcerated. Coupled with the isolation that comes with such housing, it has only increased their risk of suicide.

Though prison authorities are increasingly recognising and responding to these unique needs, as suggested by the recent UK Ministry of Justice ‘Review on the Care and Management of Transgender Offenders’, and the guidelines issued by the US Department of Justice, change is not yet widespread. In some jurisdictions, limited information about the policies underpinning the treatment of transgender inmates is available, and little is known about the experiences of transgender inmates themselves. And the rights of transgender inmates to access surgery and other treatments as part of their transition remains hotly debated in some contexts.

While the injustices discussed here are significant – and certainly not exhaustive – important changes have occurred to improve equality for LGBT people in the criminal justice system. And the pace of change is tied to broader social gains addressing other inequalities facing LGBT people. After all, efforts to improve reporting and response rates for homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are only effective as long as there is a broader social commitment to eliminating homophobia and transphobia.

However, those seeking to address legal and criminal justice inequalities face the danger that the broader social appetite for equality for LGBT people extends only to more ‘palatable’ issues such as marriage equality, or violence prevention, and not less popular issues such as the treatment of transgender prisoners. Meaningful change in the interests of justice obliges us to pursue goals that may not be immediately embraced by the public at large. Those who fought against criminalisation, and who sought to separate in the public’s mind LGBT people from the ‘sex offenders’ and ‘perverts’ they had long been associated with, faced similar problems.

Major gains have only occurred because LGBT people have had their voices heard, their unique experiences of legal and criminal justice acknowledged, and because police, government, and community leaders have recognised the need for business as usual to change. These must remain key components in the struggle to achieve greater justice and equality for LGBT people.

 

Dr Matthew Ball is a researcher in the Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. His research examines sexuality, gender, and the criminal justice system, and he has published widely. Matthew is the author of Criminology and Queer Theory: Dangerous Bedfellows?, and co-editor of Queering Criminology.

Email: mj.ball@qut.edu.au

Twitter: @Dr_Matt_Ball

Copyright free image: from author.