Important drop in violence in Colombia: some keys to such a success

Colombia has witnessed an important reduction in violence and a real drop in homicide over the last 25 years.

Events such as the fall of Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the Cali cartel in 1995 allowed for the suppression of the violence meted out by dangerous gangs. The demobilisation of armed paramilitary groups has also been a factor.

Moreover, Colombia opted for a new focus: violence as a public health problem. Prevention is articulated based on the creation of public services and not the use of police repression. The mayors of the cities of Cali, Bogota and Medellin were inspired by the exploitation of data and methods aimed at research that were widely used by healthcare professionals.

The successful experience in three cities


In 2002, the mayor Rodrigo Guerrero highlighted the problem of violence as an epidemic, and tried to map out the outbreak of violence and how this is transmitted via the exploitation of data.

The gathering of data related to homicides and the specific places where these were committed facilitated the elaboration of crime maps. The reprisals of the cartel and territorial conflicts did not completely explain the increase in the homicide rate, very high in certain places and at certain times: payday weekends and early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning near nightclubs. The study of the data suggested that the excessive consumption of alcohol and the availability of firearms had mortal consequences.

A noteworthy 35% drop in homicides in neighbourhoods was possible thanks to the prohibition to carry firearms on payday weekends and restricting the sale of alcohol.


Colombia’s second city led an urban project known as “urban acupuncture” that, based on an urbanistic design, aims to solve social problems. In a poor neighbourhood, a cable car was installed. This measure was very important because it provided residents with mobility, so that they could find work and feel more integrated in the city. There was also an investment in basic services, especially in schools and libraries. Improvements in education and mobility contributed to a reduction in homicides, from the world record of 380 homicides per 100,000 people in the 90s to 20 homicides in 2015.


The capital also applied measures inspired by public healthcare policies. They improved or destroyed areas that had become the focus of criminal activity, and investment was made in public areas that encouraged a feeling of belonging and positive inclusion among its residents. One of its mayors, Antanas Mokus, tried to change behavioural norms with programmes and campaigns that stressed mutual respect and the importance of life. The homicide rate fell from 80 homicides per 100,000 in 1993 to 16.7 per 100,000 in 2018.

The successful experiences of Cali, Bogota and Medellin were possible thanks to the vision of their political leaders. The modification of the Colombian constitution in 1991 transferred more power to local authorities, which could be more creative and experiment. At the end of the 2000 decade, leadership of these local policies inspired changes in the country’s policies: the data revolution had reached the highest levels of governmental policy.

The lessons learned

The perspective of public healthcare to administer crime has a great potential. The involvement of researchers, healthcare professionals and social workers allowed for new ways of addressing an old problem.

The urban area influences criminal patterns and a better urbanistic design stimulates an improvement in behaviour; investment in infrastructures can transform social problems.

Reforms in police organisations: the fight against corruption, enabling the police to exploit data, a focus on the dynamic of local crime and intensifying community collaboration were key to reducing crime in Colombia.


Links of interest

“Treating violence like a disease helped cut Colombia’s murder rate by 82%. Public health approaches could save hundreds of thousands of lives” by Edward Siddons


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Europol joins forces with private corporations to construct a cybernetic space

La corporació BT –btplc.comThe BT Corporation –, one of the largest IT security companies in the world– has signed an agreement memorandum with Europol to share knowledge of threats and cybernetic attacks. In this way, the two organisations reinforce their efforts to create a cybernetic space aimed at citizens, companies and governments, by exchanging intelligence, detecting threats and protecting data.

From the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), it is believed that the understanding between Europol and the BT Company will improve capacities and increase effectiveness in the prevention, persecution and interruption of cybernetic crime. Labour cooperation of this kind between Europol and industry is the most efficient way to guarantee a cyberspace for citizens and European companies.

The memorandum feels that cross-border cooperation is the key to stopping the worldwide cybercrime epidemic. They think that cybernetic security intelligence, experience and practice must be better shared in order to help to show and take measures against organised gangs of criminals in the dark corners of the network.

At the start of this year, the first telecommunications supplier in the world began to operate in order to start to share information about malicious programming and websites with Internet suppliers via an online portal, the Malware Information Exchange Platform(PSIM). Since the launching of the platform, the BT worldwide team, with over 2,500 cybernetic security experts, have had collaboration to identify and share 200,000 malicious web domains. The recipients of the threat-related intelligence from BT have the capacity to adopt specific measures against specific identified threats.

Europol created the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) in 2013 to strengthen the response with the application of the cybernetic crime law in the European Union. There is also a Joint Task force Action Taskforce (J-CAT) in operation, which aims to boost intelligence and coordinated action against the main threats and cybercrime objectives to facilitate identification, priorities, preparation and the initiation of investigations and cross-border operations for its members.


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2050 scenario: no deaths on US roads

The road to zeroTraffic accidents were, in 2015, the tenth cause of death in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. It is therefore a global problem that many countries are trying to respond to. In the USA, researchers from the Rand Corporation published a study that is set in 2050 and imagines what has been the first year without deaths on the road in this country.

The starting point is the current situation, when over 100 Americans die in their vehicle in traffic accidents every day. It is a problem that has a major effect on young people between the ages of 15 and 24, men and people who live in rural areas. Moreover, over the decades, there has been a continual drop in the number of deaths on the roads (the figure fell by 11,300 people between 1985 and 2011), in recent years a considerable rise has been detected: in 2016 5,000 more people died in traffic accidents than 2011.

The researchers imagined that they were living in 2050 and that it was the first year without a death on the road, thanks to four factors. The first was that almost all vehicles had some kind of atomisation or driving support mechanism. Secondly, that the roads were designed to reduce speed where safety is deficient. Thirdly, the improvement in emergency warning systems and care for those injured, which would reduce deaths in accidents. The last was that, as there were fewer accidents, US citizens would increasingly regard traffic accidents as unacceptable.

To get to this scenario, between 2018 and 2050 it would be necessary to implement measures focused on three areas.

  • Double the efforts and investment in programmes and policies that have been shown to be effective. These policies are seen within a wider concept, from changes in regulations to changes in infrastructures or improvements in highway education.
  • Speed up the most advanced technological changes. Support systems and driver assistance are more and more habitual with new vehicles and, gradually, the age of automatic driving is approaching. Agreements between car manufacturers and developers and suppliers of technology, as well as other actors, will be key in this area.
  • Prioritising safety. It is necessary for Americans to adopt a new culture of safety, based on awareness, education and constant enhancement, both in the individual and collective context. With this new safety system, all divers would be aware that any one of them at some time, indeed inevitably, might make a mistake and cause an accident. This premise would lead to an improvement in all areas of the road system (roads, vehicles, drivers, emergency services), so that when there is such a mistake, the consequences will not be fatal.


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North American universities will build a database on the subject of shootings at school

After the Kentucky high school shooting in January 2018, which has then been followed by an even more lethal one in Florida, a project has been launched to create a national database of such incidents. It is financed by the National Institute of Justice and will be carried out by three universities: the John Jay College of New York, the University of Texas in Dallas and the State University of Michigan. The director of the project is the teacher Joshua Freilich, who belongs to the first of the institutions mentioned. The resulting database will have to include not only those incidents that result in death, but those involving wounded victims and suicidal acts within the school context.

Despite the significant expense invested in studies into school violence since 2012 (currently reduced by President Trump), until now one of the main problems to articulate preventive policies has been the lack of empiric data concerning school violence in the United States. It is absolutely necessary to work on and gather objectively data regarding all incidents in this way in order to analyse the contexts involved and identify profiles and risk factors.

The database will include known shootings at schools from 1990 until 31st December 2016, as long as there has been at least one person wounded. The objectives are:

  • To document the nature of the problem and clarify what type of shooting incidents have taken place at schools.
  • To build a complete profile of the authors and propose causative indicators to assess if the individual incidents or the mass ones are comparable.
  • To compare incidents with and without mortalities in order to try to identify actions that could be used to reduce the damage caused by shootings.The database will be published in spring 2019, and it is expected to provide fundamental knowledge of the reasons that facilitate such incidents, as well as offer an assessment of strategies used to increase security at schools.


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The United States of America establishes protocols for the use of facial recognition systems

Face recognitionFacial recognition technology has become one the most developed over recent years that most clearly support policing tasks. However, when they are adopted, many factors must be borne in mind, both from a legal point of view (mainly because of privacy-related issues when taking, storing and processing images), and the technical point of view (the precision of the identification and the security of systems that use them, among others). The Department of Justice of the USA has elaborated and provided its police force with a model in order to apply these systems, especially focused on privacy-related questions.

One of the reasons is that the shortcomings in the development and implantation of these systems, and the malfunctions in its use may imply highly potential risks, both in the area of civil responsibility and negative perceptions on the part of the public. Moreover, given that US regulations applicable to these situations are disperse and complicated, the Department of Justice wants privacy-related risks to be reduced, as well as establishing minimum and common elements about areas such as the training and preparation of its users, and the supervision and responsibility of the entities.

The document includes a first introductory section with a review of facial recognition technology, the use of the document and a list of resources (both relevant to technical questions and legal aspects and other complementary resources). The main part of the document is a model with which agencies and entities wishing to apply this system or facial recognition programme have all their needs met in foreseeable cases. In some cases the content will simply need to be copied along with the adding of the names of the reference entities, and in others the model gathers a range of potential cases so that entities or agencies can choose the one that best suits their circumstances, needs or the system that they want to use.

The sections chosen refer to questions of motivation, regulations, the use of systems and some information obtained by using it, information processing, responsibility and training for users.

The document is available on the following link:


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Predvol, the tool the French police force use to predict areas where there is a risk of vehicles being stolen, improves police operations

In 2015, the General Administration of Data Team (AGD) within the interministérielle du numérique et du système d’information et de communication de l’État (DINSIC),[1] developed, in collaboration with the Service of Technologies and Interior Security Information Systems (ST(SI),2 a model to predict vehicle-related robberies. This collaboration has facilitated the Predvol, a tool to help with police decision-making to predict the risk of theft on a daily basis, presents a record of thefts and a classification of neighbourhoods in accordance with the type of offences that take place there.

Predvol has been optimised to be used with a touch screen and has been implemented in the French department of Oise (in the north of the country), which is especially prone to vehicle theft. More specifically, the gendarmes have applied it as a decision-making tool and have tested it in the city of Compiègne (one of the main cities of Oise) as of May 2016. Moreover, the anti-crime squad of the department’s public security board of the national police tested it in the city of Beauvais, the department’s capital.

This programme is a predictive tool[2] that uses a large number of variables and algorithms that enable the police to decide which variables are the best predictors to anticipate car theft.

After experimenting for six months, one of the conclusions has been that the attention of the operating systems focused more on visualising the crimes committed rather than the prediction of theft on a daily basis. Hence, the predictions were very effective, but only served to confirm high-risk areas that are already known to the system; on the other hand, the simple representation of incidents on a map implied improvements in the daily service. This realisation facilitated the introduction of improvements in the visualisation of offences. The visualisation of offences from the moment a report is filed enables the police to gather quality data and provide better results in police work.

For further information:

[1] The DINSIC is answerable to the prime minister within the French public administration and is in charge of coordinating the actions of administrations in terms of information.;

[2] Other predictive models: “logistic regression”, “random method”, XGBoost, Boosting, PredPol (predictive policing), evolutionary heat mapping…


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The pirate of hotel rooms

Today we introduce a new post to the blog. We tell a singular story that we think may help us to think about some aspects of security and which may be a source of learning.

In 2012, the security analyst Cody Brocious, discovered a vulnerability which affected the electric handles manufactured by the Onity brand (installed in doors in many hotels all over the world) and created a little portable device which was able to open 10 million hotel doors.

The discovery, apart from the company being informed, was communicated in specialised forums for hackers and computer security and in some media (like the journalist Andy Greenberg of Forbes magazine) echoed this. Despite some disclosures and the fact that on internet different devices were replicated (increasingly small ones) that were able to take advantage of this vulnerability, the company was slow to respond and many hotels did not want to change the handles which were no longer secure.

Aaron Cashatt, a youngster from Arizona, with drug-related problems, a brief criminal background and knowledge of computers and electronics saw a television programme which explained the system used to pirate the door handles to hotel rooms. In the summer of 2012, with an investment of 50 dollars, he was able to copy the device and he tried it out in a hotel from which he stole a few towels. Seeing how effective it was, he began to perfect his break-ins, with an increase in the value of the objects stolen (first televisions and room fittings and later the belongings of the hotel guests) as he perfected the tool that gained him entry to rooms without leaving a trace. For over a year, Arizona’s police authorities and those of other states like Ohio and California were trying to track down a ghost that was entering hotel rooms without leaving a trace. And in spite of being arrested and imprisoned for a short time for previous crimes, it was not until the summer of 2013 that they were able to relate him with the almost 100 crimes that had been committed during that time and he was finally arrested, sentenced and imprisoned for the hotel robberies.

Greenberg, published Cashutt’s story in the magazine Wired in the summer of 2017 and, despite a lack of computer knowledge he was able to copy the device conceived by Brocious. He tried to use the device in four different hotels (he stayed in the rooms that he was trying to gain entry to in order to avoid committing an offence) and, surprisingly, five years after the vulnerability involved was made public, the device worked in one of the rooms.

This story enables us to reflect on the following aspects as well as others:

  • The many actors responsible for security (in this case the police, hotels, handle manufacturers … and hackers who discover vulnerability)
  • The importance of taking measures once vulnerabilities are detected. Cashatt spent a year exploiting the vulnerability detected by Brocious … and Greenberg showed that five years later this still involved a risk for establishments that had not changed or updated their handles.
  • The need to follow security-related information. Although this had been communicated publicly and had been published by the media, police forces did not discover Cashatt’s modus operandi until he was arrested and they found the devices he was using to enter the rooms.


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Assessment of predictive policing: the case of Baden Württemberg (Germany). There are still many shady areas

The increase in burglaries in recent years in Germany has led to, among other measures, resorting to methods to predict crime (“predictive policing”) which enables forces to predict in what contexts there is a risk of such crimes in order to be able to take the necessary preventive measures to avert it being perpetrated. First Bavaria and, more recently, Baden Württemberg began to use PRECOBS[1] software produced by the Institute of Prognosis Techniques based on samples[2] and previously experimented with in Switzerland. This software is based on the idea that certain crimes (burglaries, in this case), committed in certain circumstances tend to be repeated in the same areas the following days. The success of the robbery will lead the perpetrators to regard this context as favourable for their purposes and will repeat such an action a few days later. If these crimes are identified and the police force takes the necessary measures the repetition of such crimes could be prevented.

Despite the enthusiasm these methodologies have stirred in the world of the police, there are no empirical studies which prove their efficacy beyond doubt. It is for this reason that those responsible for the pilot project “Predictive Policing P4”, initiated in Baden Württemberg on 30 October 2015 asked the Institut Max-Planck[3] for an assessment of the application of the project. The results of the assessment, carried out between the month of November 2015 and April 2016 in the police regions of Kasrlsruhe and Stuttgart, have just been published, according to the latest edition of the magazine PolizeiNewsletter[4]. The report[5] explains that during the six-month assessment period there were 183 alarms (practically all of them in urban areas, and rarely in rural areas). The police used this to take a range of preventive measures to avert the repetition of such crimes in areas near the location of these. These results were different in accordance with the areas. In some areas crime was reduced (Stuttgart) whereas in others the effect could not be perceived (Karlsruhe).

The study included an on-line survey involving 700 police officers who were related, in one way or another, with the experiment, where they were asked about their utility. The results were varied in accordance with the police structure within which they worked. In this case, 65% of the higher level members made a positive assessment of the method, at an executive and intermediate scale this stood at 57%, whereas at a basic scale only 46% regarded it as useful. Curiously, the highest percentage of professionals in favour of continuing with the experiment (62%) was in Karlsruhe, where the effect seemed open to question, whereas in Stuttgart, with a drop in burglaries during this period, only 41% were in favour.

[1] Vid.



[4]Vid. (it also has versions in Spanish, French and English)



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The European Public Prosecutor comes into being

It is known that one of the objectives of the European Union is the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice. The latest step, until now, to achieve this has been made by the Council of the European Union with the passing of Regulation (UE)2017/1939[1] of the Council, on 12 October 2017, which establishes reinforced cooperation for the creation of the European Public Prosecutor. This has been done by abiding by the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFUE) which establishes judicial cooperation in penal terms and keeping to the proposal of the European Commission and to the approval of the European Parliament.[2]

In accordance with article 86 of the TFUE, the European Prosecutor must be created based on Eurojust. This means that regulation 2017/1939 has to establish a close relationship between both based on cooperation.

The area of material competences of the European Prosecutor is limited to penal offences that damage the financial interests of the Union in accordance with what the TFUE has at its disposal. This way, the functions of the European Prosecutor must be to investigate, process and take to trial those who have committed offences against the financial interests of the Union such as crimes which have an indissoluble link to them.

Therefore, abiding by the principle of subsidiarity, offences that damage the financial interests of the Union, because of their dimension and effects, could be combatted more effectively at Union level. And concerning the principle of loyal cooperation, both the European Prosecutor and the competent national authorities must help each other and inform each other with the aim of effectively fighting against offences included in the field of competence of the European Prosecutor.

The regulation predicts that the European Prosecutor will elaborate and publish an annual report of its general activities that will, at the very least, include statistical data of the work of the European Public Prosecutor.

The Prosecutor must be inseparable from the Union, which works as a sole organism. Furthermore, with the aim of guaranteeing the coherences of actions by the European Prosecutor and, therefore, an equivalent protection of the financial interests of the Union, the organisational structure and the process of internal decision-making of the European Prosecutor, the central office must be allowed to control, direct and supervise all investigations initiated by delegate European prosecutors and the penal processes they intervene in.

The General European Prosecutor exercises its functions as head of the European Prosecution and will take on responsibilities before the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. At a decentralised level, there will be delegate European prosecutors, established within the member states.

The regulation requires that the European Public Prosecutor must respect, in particular, the right to an impartial trial, the rights of defence and the presumption of innocence, enshrined in articles 47 and 48 of the charter.

The activities of the European Public Prosecutor are carried out in complete accordance with the rights of suspects and the accused enshrined in the charter, including the right to an impartial trail and the right of defence.

Likewise, a coherent and homogeneous application of norms protecting fundamental rights and freedoms in relation to the treatment of personal data throughout the Union must be guaranteed.

The Public Prosecutor must be able to access any information affecting its competence stored in the databases and records of the institutions, organs and organisms of the Union.

[1] Directive (UE) 2017/1371 of the European Parliament and the Council, of 5 July 2017, linked to the fight against fraud that affects the financial interests of the Union via penal law.

[2] Passed 5 October 2017


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Is it necessary to wait for the perfection of autonomous cars before authorising them?

One technological advance which may most affect our daily life in the near or not-so-near future is that of autonomous vehicles, those which circulate without anyone steering or controlling them. At this moment, apart from technical issues, public debate about these vehicles involves safety, a key factor related to the authorisation by public administration to be able to circulate.

Nidhi Kalra and David G. Groves, Rand Corporation researchers have published research that analyses 500 different scenarios assessing the introduction, adoption and improvement of autonomous vehicles, in order to respond to the following questions:

  • How safe do these vehicles have to be before they can be authorised for public use?
  • Under what conditions can lives be saved by each of the policies in the short and long term and how many are saved?
  • What do the tests suggest about conditions that generate minor costs while waiting for significant improvements prior to their implementation?
  • What does this imply for policies that direct the introduction of autonomous vehicles to their use by consumers?

The model that they have designed to carry out the analysis compares the accident rate and deaths that would be caused if autonomous vehicles were authorised to circulate when it has been confirmed that these improve by an average of 10% the accident rate connected to human-driven vehicles or if it is expected that this improvement is between 75 and 90%.

The conclusion they come to is that it would be necessary to authorise the circulation of autonomous vehicles once the average of safe driving by humans has been improved by 10%. The main reason would be to save human lives (hundreds or thousands in the short term and thousands in the long term) which would transpire for two reasons. The first reason would be that once autonomous vehicles, on average, acquire a safety level higher than that of human driving its authorisation would reduce accident rates. Even if this reduction were small, the time that has passed between the level of acceptable safety and the ideal level of safety, would accumulate a number of human lives saved. The second reason is that the authorisation of these vehicles would encourage their use, and considerably increase the data available for analysis. This way, the evolution of autonomous driving would speed up and levels of safety of over 75 or 90% better than those involving human driving would be reached before.

Source: Kalra, Nidhi; Groves, David G. The enemy of Good. Estimating the Cost of Waiting for Nearly perfect Automated Vehicles. Rand Corporation


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