Monday, February 11, 2013

How to Lessen Crime in the Philippines

Crime is a problem in any poor country. The Philippines is no exception. Nightly news is full of crime reports committed on a daily basis. But as the country heads to a more prosperous future, many expect crime to go down eventually. After all, experts surmised, people who lack are the ones committing these despicable acts. When everyone is better off, fewer people will consider committing crimes because there will be less reason for it. Or so we thought.
Photo Credit: The.Comedian (Creative Commons)
But if the experience of the US about crime is any indication, this hope is misplaced. Indeed the US experienced a dramatic decrease in crime in the 90's. But it was never about their economic prosperity or people getting richer that made the impact. This question is discussed extensively in the book “Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Learning from Others

Although this book is quite popular, I still want to highlight these discussions because I think we can learn a few things from them. The chapter about crime is especially important in my view because of how appropriate it is in the Philippine setting. When the authors described the peak of criminality in the US with this statement - “It was crime that led the nightly news and the national conversation.” they could be mistaken to be talking about the Philippines.

Just the other day, it was widely reported in primetime news that there are currently more than 200 gangs operating in the country. These gangs are involved in various illegal activities that cause people to lose their sense of peace and security. It’s a big problem no doubt and one which will not likely be resolved unless acted on aggressively.

Exploring the Options

But what actions can be taken by the government or the police that will help? With the limited resources available, I don’t think we can afford to try everything and see what sticks. We don’t have to do that because we can learn from how it played out in other countries. We can select which actions made significant impact and avoid those that did not really help.

Here’s a list of some of the reasons experts were using to explain how crime fell in the US starting in the early 90’s.
  1. Innovative policing strategies
  2. Increased reliance on prisons
  3. Tougher gun-control laws
  4. Strong economy
  5. Increased number of police
Among these five, only two actually were proven to have helped in crime reduction. The increase in both police force and prison capacity has been effective in deterring criminal elements from acting out their malicious intentions.

Take note that policing strategy, however innovative, has not been seen to work as effectively as increasing the number of police personnel. So the right metric that we should be looking out for is the police to population ratio. It needs to improve dramatically to as high as the government can afford. The presence of police officers deter criminals from committing crimes so instead of putting security guards everywhere who are untrained and ineffective, the government should spend on more policemen and women.

Expectations on a Strong Economy

A stronger economy is something many of us are banking on. When we look at rich countries, we can sense that they have less crime than us. The US situation actually debunks the “strong economy” theory. Although studies have shown that a 1% decrease in unemployment translates to a 1% decrease in non-violent crimes, the overall picture is not conclusive. This means there is no correlation when we look at violent and non-violent crime trends and how the economy performs.

Reliance on prisons as a deterrent has also been shown to work. Increasing the capacity of existing prison facilities and using them to lock up criminals for a long period of time work effectively as a disincentive to prevent crimes. It’s no coincidence that the decrease in crime in the US happened at a time when incarceration increased four-fold.

Levitt has also attributed half the decrease in crime rate to the legalization of abortion. It’s a fascinating topic to explore but it’s not realistic to aim for that as a method in the Philippines. We are a pretty conservative country to accept abortion. It will be extremely surprising to see it legalized in this country.

But even without it, the two reasons given merit above should be a lot of help to formulate steps in reducing crime rate in the Philippines. We expect the Philippines to be a more prosperous country in the future. It won’t necessarily bring with it peace and order, however. In order for that to happen, serious and effective strategies should be undertaken starting now.
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