very difficult to counter.
Nevertheless, we believe that substantial reforms in
police departments, in police strategies and in criminal
justice practice can have a substantial impact on crime
in Latin America, just as they did in the United States.
Crime grows unchecked in Latin America for the same
reason it grew in the United States. The institutional response from the police and the criminal justice system
has been wholly inadequate and uncoordinated.
Like the U.S. 20 years ago, many Latin American
criminal justice systems are not organized, focused
and motivated to meet the new challenges. Funda-
mental institutional changes are essential, both within
police departments and in the wider criminal justice
system, before widespread and sustainable progress
can be made. Based on our experience with U. S. police
departments and consulting with police agencies in
Latin America, what follows are some general reforms
that can mark the path toward those fundamental
changes. It is not meant to be an exhaustive summary,
but it should provide a working blueprint for any seri-
ous police reform effort.
In many Latin American cities, the basic unit of police action and enforcement is the district (the comisaría in the Spanish-speaking nations or the
military police company and the civil police delegacía in Brazil). But this
often covers too large an area and too large a population.
It is not unusual for a comisaría to be policing a population of 300,000
people or more. This is simply too large a community to be manageable. Modern
policing models call for the local police commander to connect strongly with the
community and to develop an intimate knowledge of crime and crime patterns.
Ideally, police districts should have a population of 150,000 or fewer. New York City,
for example, with a population of 8 million, is divided into 78 geographical areas
called precincts, with the average precinct population under 100,000.
Merely establishing substations or outposts, without key commanders present,
does not address the issue of focused local coverage. What is needed is a command
structure at a local level that exerts authority, analyzes problems and develops strategies to solve them. Decentralizing to this degree is unquestionably costly, both
in infrastructure and personnel; but failing to decentralize to a manageable level
will exact a far heavier cost.
One of the chief benefits of decentralization is greatly improved community
relations, as community members begin to recognize that the police are helping,
not hurting, their neighborhoods. That would set in motion a virtuous cycle in
which community members provide more information to the police, and the police, acting on this intelligence, become even more effective at delivering service.
This happened in both New York and Los Angeles as decentralizing policing reforms took effect. It can happen in Latin American cities as well.
call for the