Q&A: New Buenos Aires Leadership Seeks Changes to Decrease Crime, Curb Police Corruption

Martín Ocampo is the new minister of justice and security for the city government of Buenos Aires, which has seen a spike in crime over the last several years. He sat down with GPJ to talk about how he plans to grapple with the city’s crime problem.

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Q&A: New Buenos Aires Leadership Seeks Changes to Decrease Crime, Curb Police Corruption

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Argentina was once considered the safest country in Latin America, but rising crime rates have changed daily life. Safety was a primary topic in last year’s elections. Now, Buenos Aires’ new justice and security minister aims to reverse the trend of ongoing insecurity.

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BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – During last year’s general election season in Argentina, the topic of security was among the most popularly contested issues among candidates and citizens.

The country was long considered to be the safest in Latin America, but that reputation began to erode in the early 2000s, especially as robbery rates jumped to the highest in the region, peaking in 2002, according to the International Security Sector Advisory Team, a division of the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

When the Argentine government released crime data in April, the report noted a 78 percent spike in sexual assault rates between 2008 and 2015. All told, crime rates went up by 10 percent during that same period.

As the country welcomed a new president and new government officials were appointed within the administration, other government officials stepped into new roles, too, including in the city of Buenos Aires. There, Martín Ocampo is the new minister of justice and security. GPJ sat down with the minister to talk about the capital city, its challenges and promise for the coming year. This is an excerpt of that interview.

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Dina Gonzalez, GPJ Argentina

Martín Ocampo, minister of justice and security for the city government of Buenos Aires, spoke with GPJ about the capital city’s security challenges and what he plans to do about them.

Insecurity was a big topic of debate during the campaign season last year, both in Buenos Aires and throughout the country. Why do you think that was?

[Insecurity] is one of the most important points that our citizenry demand. In any survey it’s at the top of the ranking of demands. And it seems to me that we have an obligation as public authorities, as much from the city, as the nation and the province of Buenos Aires, to coordinate efforts and give a response to this request of the people.

What are the security problems in the city at the moment, and which policies have you planned or implemented?

Recovering the public space is one of the best policies that can be had for security. And, above all things, and from the point of view of the police and judiciary, the issue of combatting drug trafficking, not only in the city of Buenos Aires, but rather in the entire country. Those are the two paths we have confronted. From the national level, with [President Mauricio Macri] saying that it’s one of his priorities to combat drug trafficking, and from the city of Buenos Aires, to build that friendly city. And that friendly city has to do with the subject of security.

What do you think about corruption among the federal police?

We are relentless with that. Where we find corruption, be it of the police or any sector of the government, we will be inexorably strict.

It seems to me that we [have to make them recognize] that they put on a uniform, have a gun at their waist, they care for all of us and it’s a job that society has to value, and that [as] the political leaders we also have to value.

Just as we will give them all of this value and we will try to ensure they have the best means to carry out their work, we will also be very hard on those bad police.

President Mauricio Macri asked for a crime map. What is a crime map, and what will it be used for?

The crime map is statistical information that is constructed through the reports that are done of all the crimes that occur in the city of Buenos Aires. Those reports are geopositioned.

So that allows one to have a good map of crime, to have an efficient policy, because [it] detects in which place a particular crime is occurring, or a determined form of that crime. And [it allows one] to be able to have an intervention, by police or if it’s not the police it’s regulatory in some cases, which can be effective to end the crime.

What is happening and what happened in Argentina of recent years is that the Argentine statistical system was destroyed. Now we have to rebuild that statistical system. And that rebuilding will take us a while. But it’s a vital tool. Public policy can’t be done without having this data.

What are your main objectives as justice and security minister?

The first is to end with the quasi-privatized spaces in public places.

They take it for themselves, they appropriate and exploit it, whether they are called manteros (street vendors), trapitos (informal parking attendants), etc.

In the case of the trapitos, we need a legislative reform that allows us to have a more efficient job, in the entire system. Because the system isn’t only the police and that of security, but rather [it includes] the judicial system. Bad regulation doesn’t help the judges and the prosecutors do their job in an efficient manner.

The other objective is to accompany the national government in this fight against drug trafficking.

And the third has to do with the means to combat crime. We have a viewpoint about crime: The biggest problem with crime is that there is always an economic matrix. That is to say, except for those crimes that are of a passionate nature, the rest have a financial motive. It’s people who want to make money through the illicit.

What message would you like to give to the world as justice and security minister for the city of Buenos Aires?

It seems to me that the central thing in the world is that we view each other as humanity. If we see ourselves as human beings, we will be more ready to share experiences and to share solutions. We, around there, have some experience in an issue that could help others, and others can have experiences that can help us.

We have to promote this exchange of opinions and ideas and experiences because [that] allows all of us to be more efficient. In reality, the secret is not only to build a better city, or to build a better country, but rather to build a better world.


Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this interview from Spanish.