U-M report: Violent crime escalates in Haiti as confidence in police erodes

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--Haiti exhibited a dramatic increase in violent crime in the last six months, as residents reported declining confidence in the police, a new University of Michigan report indicates.

No single factor can explain the rise in violence--especially murder and armed robberies--in Haiti’s urban areas, but the country’s stability has eroded after a five-year period in which crime steadily declined to record lows, the researchers say.


Surveys were conducted monthly in 3,000 households between August 2011 and February 2012 in seven urban areas, including Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes and Gonaives. Researchers visited homes to adults over the age of 18, and subsequently conducted follow-up s by telephone.

Collectively, the surveys demonstrate an increasing dissatisfaction with the government of Haiti after five years of growing confidence, as well as fears that political uncertainty and turmoil will increase crime, says Athena Kolbe, a U-M doctoral candidate in social work and political science.

Kolbe co-wrote the report with Robert Muggah, a researcher at the International Relations Institute of the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.

Preliminary findings in the report, titled "Haiti’s Urban Crime Wave," indicate that:

--Half of the reported murders occurred during armed robbery or attempted armed robbery. Port-au-Prince’s overall homicide is low compared to other Caribbean cities, but its rate of 60.9 per 100,000 people is one of the highest recorded rates since 2004.

--Property crime, which includes theft and vandalism, increased dramatically between October 2011 (65 incidents) and February 2012 (95 incidents). Most times these crimes involved cash or property valued at less than $40, such as cell phones.

--For the first time since 2007, overall support for the Haitian National Police declined. Residents complained about police misconduct, such as being asked for bribes and sexually harassed by uniformed officers.

The rise in crime has followed political uncertainty, Kolbe says. This occurred, in part, due to a disputed election during which a political party popular among the urban poor was excluded from the ballot and the abrupt resignation of the prime minister in February.

At the same time, municipal and social services--which are often provided by nongovernmental or international organizations rather than the Haitian government--have been reduced in poor urban areas, Kolbe says. For example, garbage collection occurs infrequently and community schools are closing due to lack of funds.

Some residents feel excluded both from the electoral process and opportunities to lead and improve their own communities, Kolbe says. And unless services and interventions are improved for families and the community, the current pattern of escalating crime will likely persist.


 
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