Never has the issue of understanding and responding better to urban security been more acute. More than 50% of the world’s population currently lives in an urban environment, and urban populations are predicted to grow by a rate of 1.5-2% per year. Crime and victimization surveys across 80 countries and cities highlight the pervasiveness of insecurity and injustice amongst diverse and disaggregated population groups.

A 2013 survey of hundreds of thousands of respondents conducted by the placed “protection against crime and violence” among their top priorities. Repeated public opinion surveys underline the importance citizens attach to the rule of law and freedom from fear and the ways perceived insecurity undermines mobility, investment and livelihoods. These findings persist across upper-, middle- and lower-income settings and are captured in a wide range of census processes, as well as, increasingly new social media and big data technologies.

Wide-scale urbanisation, pressure on resources, and the growing presence of networked organised crime groups, suggests that South African and African cities more generally will face considerable security challenges in future. Neglect of organized crime’s potential to overwhelm urban environments carries high risks: Cape Town, which now has some of South Africa’s highest rates of murder and drug-related crime, is a case in point. The city witnessed 2,580 murders in 2013, a rate of just over 7 per day, of which 12% were gang-related; the latter percentage represented an increase of 86% over 2012. Criminal practices have escalated and accumulated, making the Western Cape area a hub for illicit activity.

A review both of the available literature and current debates makes clear that there are no “quick-fixes”. Future policy reponses will need to expand beyond the traditional law enforcement driven responses, which have been known to exacerbate, rather than reduce insecurity. It has become increasingly clear that development approaches need to be brought to the table, and the development community has acknowledged the importance of addressing urban security as a universal development agenda in the post-2015 MDG deliberations, as demonstrated in the proposed Sustainable Development Goal number 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

To achieve this goal, national governments and urban administrations will need to draw on multiple resources (financial and non-financial) and bring together cross-departmental approaches. Strategies will have to rely on a complex mix of experimentation and lesson learning, combined with a refoccussing of how local governments work to improve the security of all their residents.

One of the key challenges to catalyzing innovative approaches, bringing new actors to the table and negotiating for the deployment of greater resources, both for the law enforcement community as well as from other sectors, comes in the lack of common and agreed baselines, or the ability to effectively measure the impact of initiatives. While there is a plethora of metrics available, bringing those together in a meaningful way to have give an understanding of whether citizens are in fact becoming and feeling more or less secure. A bombardment of statistics and ‘performance’ metrics may look good on paper, but can obfusticate rather than clarify whether in fact any positive progress is being achieved.

The Global Initiative is working to develop catalytic research, tools and to provide opportunities for policy alignment around promoting innovative strategies and responses to the role played by organized crime in urban insecurity.


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