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Guatemala Wants Citizens to Pick Up Slack on Sky High Crime Rates

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, May 12 2014

To say Guatemala struggles to curb crime rates would be an understatement. Per the official numbers, only two percent of crimes are prosecuted (meaning a whopping 98 percent are not, not at all). Could a new citizen-driven crime reporting tool help change that? launched last fall, supported by Guatemala's Ministry of the Interior. According to this Atlantic article, in the past three months, 356 homicides, 202 armed attacks, 44 illegal drug sales, 11 kidnappings, and six cases of "extortion by cell phone” have been reported.

That sounds like a lot, like this platform must be getting a lot of use, but last year Guatemala averaged 438 homicides a month.

Alertos administrators give reports credibility ratings (how is unclear) and when possible link to a news story about the crime. This is in many ways like Guyana Crime Reports, a similar tool I wrote about in January, which indicates which reports have been verified in some way, and also links to relevant articles.

The project shares many of the same features and pitfalls of other crowdmapping projects, even those with other aims such as election-monitoring or anti-corruption. Anonymous reporting projects protect those who speak out but can make it difficult to verify facts and to prosecute the guilty. And as important as awareness-building and citizen-empowerment are, equally important is the government's ability to hold people accountable for their crimes.

Alertos is clear about being an “informational tool” and states on the website that all reports should also be given to the police, because they are not capable of resolving them.

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