Colombia’s National Policing Model: Real Success?

By Kenneth Sebastian Leon*

Photo Credit: Policía Nacional de los colombianos / Flickr / Creatives Commons

Photo Credit: Policía Nacional de los colombianos / Flickr / Creatives Commons

Colombia’s new policing model – called the National Quadrant Surveillance Model, or MNVCC – has been implemented for almost five years, but assessments of its impact vary widely. Commonly referred to as “Plan Cuadrantes” or “Modelo Cuadrantes,” it was introduced in 2010 as a law enforcement operational strategy for the Colombian National Police (CNP) combining elements of the “hot spots” and community policing models.  The MNVCC emphasizes modern technological and data-driven methods for deploying patrol officers according to locale-specific needs, while also prioritizing community-citizen relations.  The model applies spatial geographic informations system (GIS) technology to public safety-related data to define geographic quadrants for allocating personnel and resources .  In areas of high crime density, for example, the quadrants are smaller to allow for a higher concentration of deployed officers.  Community policing aims to improve relations and collaboration between police officers and the citizens they serve.  On the street, the MNVCC model specifies that six officers be assigned per quadrant, and that all officers be visible, approachable, and recognizable to the residents and commercial establishments.

There is no consensus on how well the model is working.  Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz (FiP), a research and policy institution contracted by the CNP, in 2012 released an evaluation of the first eight cities (including Bogotá and Medellín) that found an 18 percent decrease in homicides, 11 percent in personal assaults, and 22 percent in vehicle thefts.  Another research organization specializing in measuring and monitoring quality of life indicators in major cities in Colombia and abroad, Cómo Vamos, assessed in 2013 that Bogotá ranks second to last nationwide in perception of safety – with only 21 percent of residents feeling safe in the city.  A survey conducted last year by El Centro de Estudio y Análisis en Convivencia y Seguridad Ciudadana found that 71 percent of respondents in the capital are either “very dissatisfied” or “dissatisfied” with the police service.  It also calculated that both total number and population rates of homicide increased between 2013 and 2014.  CNP officials privately maintain that the MNVCC is successful and that these contradictory reports are a matter of perception.  Indeed, a CNP general told El Tiempo newspaper that the perception is caused by “increases in reporting to the police, and that shows increased trust in the police.”

While the data on MNVCC effectiveness obviously need further research, anecdotal information does yield some positive lessons from a community policing perspective.  Smartphone apps and the CNP website provide users with a “find your quadrant” feature, linking them to local-level officers and patrol stations, and WhatsApp messaging allows citizens to connect directly with “quadrant officers.”  Additionally, a Puerta-a-puerta initiative provides information that helps the citizen more effectively reach out to law enforcement.  Call boxes at strategic points in neighborhoods, and a Frente a la Comunidad  neighborhood watch-style program distributes radios to contact local police.  Despite discrepancies in crime statistics and perception surveys, the sixth year of the MNVCC model appears to be creating an infrastructure and a culture in targeted communities that could – with further investments and adjustments – mark a strategic watershed in Colombian policing. 

October 2, 2015

*Kenneth Sebastian Leon is a PhD student in American University’s Department of Justice, Law, and Criminology with a dual emphasis in sociolegal studies and criminology.

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