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Crime & Justice

Tackling Crime Takes on Import As Urban Populations Rise

At the UN Forum of Mayors on Crime Prevention and Security in Urban Settings, from left to right: Dong Min Ki, Jonathan Lucas, Cecilia Andersson, Martin Xaba, Bilal S. Hamad, and Marin Casimir Ilboudo. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

TURIN, Italy, May 21 2013 (IPS) - As people around the world continue to migrate into cities, swelling urban populations, they have sparked growth in another area: crime and security issues.

“Big cities are…where the greatest opportunities are, but also where more criticalities concentrate,” said Piero Fassino, mayor of Turin, Italy, at the plenary session of the Forum of Mayors on Crime Prevention and Security in Urban Settings, held in Turin from May 20 to 21.

“While the quality of services to citizens are usually higher in those centres, they also present more problems of social alienation, youth unrest and crime,” Fassino added.

"[Cities] present more problems of social alienation, youth unrest and crime."
-- Piero Fassino

The forum, organised by United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) with the United Nations Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and the municipality of Turin, sought to reduce inequality and injustice in urban settings and address the dynamics of security and crime preventions.

The challenge for the future is to take advantage of opportunities offered by urbanisation while reducing episodes of crime and violence that hinder sustainable development, particularly for the most vulnerable people: women, youth and marginalised groups.

“From 1960 to 1990, urbanisation was accompanied by a severe increase [in] crime and violence, which affected the majority of cities and towns in both the developed and the developing world,” explained Cecilia Andersson, human settlements officer of the Safer Cities Programme of UN-HABITAT, during her opening speech.

“This situation required change. It required the cities and towns themselves to take responsibility to deal with these issues,” she added.

Mayors and representatives of 18 municipalities around the world from Cape Town to Bangkok, from Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) to Seoul, discussed the biggest challenges they encountered and the best measures to take to address them.

Martin Xaba, head of the Safer Cities and I-Trump Department of Durban, South Africa, explained how the local municipality decided in 2000 to adopt the Safer Cities strategy.

“The strategy requires the implementation of both reactive and proactive approach,” Xaba explained. While adequate responses to crime are always needed, “prevention remains the most effective tool, and this is where community involvement becomes critical”.

Such tools, in the case of Durban, include campaigns for crime awareness and against the abuse of women and children, workshops on drug abuse, and the active participation of the community in ward safety committees.

It was “upon the request of African mayors, who were having an issue with regards to safety in their cities” that the programme Safer Cities began in Africa, Andersson explained to IPS, with Johannesburg, South Africa and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania as pilot cities. The programme has since gone global.

Meanwhile, local leaders say that exchanging ideas among cities does work. Antonio Frey, director of local security in Santiago del Chile, told IPS, “The experience of Cape Town, South Africa, is very interesting for us. They managed to recover public spaces, thanks to the involvement of citizens from marginalised areas.”

“This strategy has positive effects in the long run, because those people recover that space, and then take care [of] and manage it.”

Despite the substantial differences between cities in terms of crime rates and types of crimes, a key requirement to enhance safety and security is the decentralisation of policies from the national to local level.

When policies are not decentralised, improving circumstances becomes very difficult, as Bilal S. Hamad, mayor of Beirut, could attest during his speech at the plenary session.

In Beirut, a lack of decentralisation is hindering the municipality’s ability to intervene on crime and safety issues. “The central government has its hand in the affairs of the municipality,” Hamad lamented. The city is not in charge [of] a police force, and the central government put someone in the role of governor, “taking all the executive power in the city of Beirut”.

In another example, inadequate housing is a problem indirectly connected to crime, but “we don’t have full power [over] it, because it’s the central government which controls that”, insisted Hamad.

According to Andersson, apart from decentralisation, cooperation is also essential. “The best results come when all the various departments in a municipality [understand] that they have a role to play with regards to providing safety and security for the inhabitants of the city,” she told IPS.

Interestingly, crime and violence differ significantly from city to city, and developed and developing countries do not necessarily face separate types of crimes.

“In developing countries, the biggest challenge is always finding resources,” Andersson told IPS, particularly moving resources from national to local governments. Some problems, however, affect most cities, regardless of the country in which they are located. “Across borders, in all regions, the issue of women and girls’ safety…comes out quite clearly,” Andersson said.

This issue, by limiting the freedom of women and girls, prevents them from participating in and contributing to their communities. As Andersson clarified during the conference, “Communities where all citizens are empowered to participate in social, economic and political opportunities…are instrumental [in reducing] poverty.”

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