Placing Victims at The Centre of Policing

Posted on 3rd July 2018

Placing Victims at The Centre of Policing: Towards a New Concept of Policing in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Andy Williams Visiting Lecturer at Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. and Managing Director at Andrew Williams Consulting


Although Latin America and the Caribbean is home to only 9% of the world population, the region accounts for 33% of homicides in the world. Despite significant funding and initiatives, violent crime continues to increase while detections and prosecutions decrease in many countries. Reliable and robust data is often not publicly available, absent or incomplete in relation to all forms of crime including homicide rates. The last year for which a majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries provided data showed that at least 17 countries in the region reported homicide rates greater that the UN epidemic level of 10 per 100,000 population. Notwithstanding the need to take emergency measures in extremis such as in Jamaica this year, it is time to consider how we have strayed so far from the voice of the victims of crime.

Amid this seemingly relentless rise in violent crime we increasingly hear governments and law enforcement agencies advocate for victims when, in reality, victim-oriented support tends to be bolted on to existing community policing services as a supplement to the prevailing police mandate of law enforcement, population governance, crime prevention and, to a greater or lesser extent, social control. The rhetoric of police chiefs and politicians captures the language of 'victims' but the translation of this into practice is uneven and highly dependent upon the prevailing cultures of local police teams, the government in power and partner agencies. The prioritisation of victim’s voices waxes and wanes with public, political and policing moods and sustainable reforms that would see real benefits continue to elude the victims of crime in many of the countries of the region.

Despite initiatives in the Caribbean and Latin America to resolve violent crime and social insecurity, criminal justice systems continue to fall short on standard measures of effectiveness. Policing continues to be seen in many countries as a para-military and coercive state function, something that is done 'to' society rather than ‘with’ and for it. Therefore, there remains in many Latin American and Caribbean countries, inequalities in access to justice, responsive policing and social order. Truly placing victims at the centre of justice systems would restore the social and contextual balance that existed in less globalised times.

A detachment has formed between policing as a social function and the police as a state organisation. In some countries that receive support in criminal justice and policing reforms from international donors, this is caused by the ideological drive of the donor countries to impose political dogma as part of social reform programmes. Democratisation is often a hard or soft pre-requisite of policing or criminal justice reform and solutions that are appropriate in the urbanised global north are transferred to the global southern countries regardless of their suitability or effectiveness. As a consequence of this, the spiral of social devastation continues in too many countries in the region.

The failure to identify and agree on an underpinning philosophical concept of policing as distinct from the state-oriented functions of the police undermines attempts to reform policing. If police organisations want to situate the protection and support of victims as one of their primary functions then a fundamental review of the role and function of police organisations, within the context of an agreed policing concept, is required to deliver real and sustainable change.

With such strong concepts of society, justice and equality the people of the Caribbean and Latin America would benefit from placing the victim at the heart of policing and justice systems to ensure that restorative or punitive redress is appropriate, sustainable and in context with the needs of the victim.

With my colleague, Dr Craig Paterson, at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice we examine this issue in more depth in an academic paper published this month in the Journal of Victimology and Victim Justice .

Andrew Williams Consulting has developed a Multi-Dimensional Modelling (©MDM) approach that places proposed reforms into the specific social, political, ideological and legal context of beneficiary countries to maximise the potential for sustainability.

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