Crime and Violence

Federal government claims progress in decreasing crime and violence; data and methodology questioned

Minister of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong. Photo: El Universal.
Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong. Photo: El Universal.

06/28/14 (written by cmolzahn) — The public security focus in Mexico over the past year and a half has largely fallen on Michoacán and, more recently, Tamaulipas. The violence in those two states stems from substantially different causes—in Michoacán conflicts between the Knights Templar Organization (Caballeros Templarios, KTO) and the largely rural populations it has terrorized and extorted, leading to the advent of vigilante groups and the subsequent intervention of the federal government; and in Tamaulipas a reported rift in the dominant Gulf Cartel in late March leading to dozens of ejecuciones, largely in urban areas, predominantly in the city of Reynosa. The federal government has claimed progress in both states, though there is some question as to the methodology behind those claims, and whether the data used to back them are being made available to the public.

Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong maintains that violence in Tamaulipas is down as a result of the government’s strategy there, although he gave no specific figures to support his arguments. In a press conference alongside Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre in which he also announced the planned construction of the State University of Security and Justice of Tamaulipas (Universidad Estatal de Seguridad y Justicia de Tamaulipas), Osorio credited the decrease to enhanced security measures along the state’s highways, particularly focusing on cars without plates. The federal government has not made public data to corroborate Osorio’s claims; the most recent data are from April, when there were 75 investigations into aggravated homicides and 26 into kidnappings. The number of murders was the most since November 2012, and the number of kidnappings was the most on record. Moreover, the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reported that in April there were 128 victims of aggravated homicide, up from 57 in March, and the highest total since the agency began reporting such data in January of this year. There were also 44 victims of kidnapping, also the highest monthly total thus far this year. Nevertheless, the new security strategy was adopted in May of this year.

According to Gustavo Torres Salinas, mayor of Tampico, Tamaulipas, a rift within the Gulf Cartel led to a wave of violence he said resulted in 24 cartel-related killings in April. As did the previous administration, President Enrique Peña Nieto has opted to send the Mexican Army and Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) to attempt to restore peace to Tamaulipas. While many international observers object—particularly to the use of the military to carry out public security functions—public opinion both in troubled areas like Tamaulipas and nationwide supports the strategy. In a nationwide survey carried out in May, research group Parametría found that with regards to the situation in Tamaulipas, 41% felt that the federal, state, and municipal governments are responsible for providing public security services. 27% believed that it fell on the federal government to do so, while 23% responded that it was the job of the state government. Just 5% responded that the municipal governments should be providing such services. With regards to Michoacán, far fewer respondents in a similar poll conducted in November 2013 (28%) were in favor of a combined effort between federal, state, and local governments, while far more (36%) opted for the federal government. The tallies for the state government (26%) and municipal governments (3%) were similar to those for Tamaulipas.

Photo: Parametría.
Photo: Parametría.

In both cases, public trust in the municipal police forces’ ability or willingness to provide public security remains quite low, while support for at least some federal involvement remains high. When asked more directly about the Mexican Army and Federal Police being deployed to Tamaulipas, 78% responded in favor, while just 6% opposed. This compares with 76% and 14%, respectively, from the poll regarding Michoacán conducted in November. Respondents to the May poll expressed far more optimism that deploying the Army and Federal Police would improve the security situation in Tamaulipas than did for Michoacán last November. In the case of Tamaulipas, 44% responded that violence would decrease, while 28% felt that it would remain the same, and 17% believed it would increase. This compares with 26%, 49%, and 16% for Michoacán, respectively.

Amidst relatively high approval rates for its handling of criminal organizations in Mexico—bolstered by recent high-profile arrests of leaders of the Knights Templar and Zetas organizations by the Peña Nieto administration, and particularly the arrest of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in February—the Peña Nieto administration continues to point to its policies as the cause of substantial declines in violence in recent months. In a recent visit to Spain on June 9, Peña Nieto claimed that “violence and insecurity” had declined 12% between 2012 and 2013, and 25% during the first quarter of 2013. México Evalúa’s Rodrigo Elizarrarás A., writing in Animal Político, questioned these claims, responding with an independent analysis of SNSP data, which found that while aggravated homicides declined by 12.38% between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 as the president claimed, he challenged the president’s category of “violence and insecurity,” for which no specific crimes were mentioned. Elizarrarás and his research team attempted several combinations of crimes, including aggravated homicide, extortion, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and aggravated vehicle theft, and were not able to replicate the president’s claim of a 25% reduction between the first quarter of 2013 and the corresponding period in 2014. They were only able to reach the 25% figure by adding the decreases in homicides and aggravated robberies between the two aforementioned periods, which came to 24.31%. Calculated correctly, the decrease in the two classifications of crime during this period was 11%.

While there is no definitive evidence that the Peña Nieto administration used this erroneous method to arrive at its 25% figure, it also made claims about a reduction in violence in Ciudad Juárez that could only be reached by adding rates of decrease for individual crimes. The administration claimed that there had been a more than 100% decrease in crime in the border city in the “past three or four years.” Elizarrarás and his team found an 85.13% decrease in aggravated murder and robbery there between the first quarter of 2011 and the corresponding period of 2014, but when added together the figure becomes 164.63%, which would be more in line with the president’s claims. Elizarrarás acknowledges that it is impossible to be certain that the president employed this erroneous method to arrive at his figures, but maintains that if he did not, then he is making use of data that are not being made public through SNSP that must be made public.


“Disminuye violencia en Tamaulipas: Osorio Chong.” El Universal. June 9, 2014.

“Baja violencia en Tamaulipas. – Osorio.” El Norte. June 9, 2014.

“La violencia en los estados no es un tema local.” Parametría. Accessed June 24, 2014.

Elizarrarás A., Rodrigo. “El presidente no tiene quien le sume…” Animal Político. June 17, 2014.

“Tamaulipas y el combate contra la violencia.” Milenio. Accessed June 26, 2014.

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