CHILE: Violent crime rate 'held' after sharp rise

PRIVATE STUDY COMPARES SCENE WITH PRE-GIULIANI NYC

Violent crime in Chile has increased sharply, but the rate appears to have been stabilised in the past few months. Both conclusions emerged from statements by top officials last week, which showed the rates of reported crimes in the first quarter of this year sharply up on the same period of 2002 but virtually unchanged from the last quarter of last year, and a private study which suggested that higher spending on security wasn't working.

'Like New York in 1994.' It was the publication of a study by the Instituto Libertad y Desarrollo (ILD), a private think-tank, that brought the issue of personal security back to the fore last week. According to its data, 'major' crimes had increased by 83.4% over the past eight years.

Indeed, armed robbery (the crime which most contributes to the public perception of insecurity) increased by 232.6% in 1997-2002. In the metropolitan region (Santiago and its environs), the report says, holdup rates 'have reached alarming levels, similar to those faced by New York in 1994, just before it started implementing the Zero Tolerance plan which reduced crime rates by 40%.'

The main point made by ILD is that in Chile a parallel increase in anti-crime spending had been ineffectual. In the period surveyed, says ILD, public-sector spending for this purpose increased by 80%, and private-sector spending by 100%. All told, the report says, US$2.57bn was spent on security in Chile last year.

The undersecretary of the interior, Jorge Correa Sutil, challenged the conclusions of the study, though his criticism was chiefly aimed at the methodology for calculating overall spending on anti-crime purposes.

The latest figures. Two days later, though, Correa was sitting beside his boss, interior minister José Miguel Insulza, at an unusually high-level presentation of crime statistics that portrayed a situation about as bad as that outlined by the ILD.

In the first quarter of this year, they reported, the number of holdups countrywide was 36.2% higher than in the same period of 2002; in the metropolitan region, 25% higher. For all 'major' crimes the countrywide rate of increase was 11.02%.

The one comfort drawn by Correa from the statistics was that there appeared to be a 'trend towards control of reported crimes.' This, he said, emerges from the fact that the number of 'major' crimes reported in January-March was actually 0.76% lower than in October-December.

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