Safe Localities, Dynamic Localities

Citizen safety and socioeconomic and environmental safety are critical factors for a locality’s development; they are part of a serious strategy for local development. Yet who is or who are responsible for these crucial aspects? How to integrate these new challenges into the local government’s traditional responsibilities? Which instruments are available?
Citizen safety and socioeconomic and environmental safety are critical factors for a locality’s development; they are part of a serious strategy for local development.

Yet who is or who are responsible for these crucial aspects? several players, some of a national or extra-local level and others of the locality itself. The following lines focus on the challenges the local government and civil society face in order to improve safety and reinforce the conditions that are necessary for the sustainable development of their locality.

(i)About Citizen Insecurity

Citizen safety is being threatened by crime, offenses against property, corruption, drug dealing, family and street violence, among other types of violence. It is good to remember that safety is not absolute anywhere, but that greater and lesser degrees of insecurity could exist.

Abating insecurity is not a simple task; it demands to battle on various fronts. Although some partial measures are commendable, the effectiveness of the effort increases when it is possible to deploy a series of complementary actions, as the following:

Working on factors that may make the expansion of insecurity easier (as is the case with poverty and inequality –that are tackled in the following section, but also on addictions, absence of norms, nihilism, unprotected children, some of the areas where civil society can play a decisive role).
Preserving the existing safety and preventing the emergence of new sources of insecurity by improving the security local force.
Educating for having safety in schools, local development centers and civil society organizations, teaching which precautions to take, how to alert the community to threatening situations, and diverse manners of containing the criminal behavior of relatives and acquaintances.
Rehabilitating those who serve sentences so that penitentiary institutions do not end up being incubators of aggravated criminal systems; this requires transforming the exclusively punitive nature of the current systems into one that is more comprehensive, where the sentence is part of a rehabilitation and social re-insertion approach applied to those whose dangerousness could have disappeared.
Coordinating with citizen safety actions of other levels of intervention (state, federal or international, as appropriate) in order to complement the efforts and share intelligence information.
As with other systems (education, health, transportation, etc.), people’s participation complementing the action of service providers is essential. In the education system, the involvement of parents and neighbors is crucial; in the health system, the patients themselves and their families take part; regarding safety, families and neighbors can contribute by modifying conducts and offering information about threats and violent actions they are witnesses to or have knowledge about.

Citizen safety is not a sufficient condition to attain local development, but it is becoming more and more a necessary condition and one that makes a difference among localities that compete with each other for attracting initiatives, investments, economic, cultural or sports projects. Although it manifests itself locally, citizen insecurity has local and external causes. Eradicating the local causes of insecurity is up to the authorities and the local community; they have the responsibility for facing isolated incidents of insecurity as well as other more serious ones of a structural nature. Among the latter, they must identify and dismantle criminal networks that may have become deeply entrenched in the municipal administration itself involving at times public officers, inspectors, political leaders, the media, law makers and the very forces of security. As a matter of fact, the different criminal modalities tend to interconnect, and when this occurs, the threat against citizen safety grows exponentially. In the face of it, the only choice left is to raise citizen safety to a State policy level.

(ii)About Socio-economic and Environmental Insecurity

In localities that have marked social inequalities and few job opportunities the values of solidarity and honest effort become compromised. Privilege segregates and discriminates generating inclusion and exclusion circles. When the access to opportunities gets blocked, initiative is discouraged and energy is sterilized, giving way to unease, frustration, nihilism and, eventually, the search for criminal shortcuts. The situation would be even more serious should arrogance, haughtiness or cockiness prevail in those who hold economic, social or political power; to their existing privilege, they would be adding offense.

In that context, environmental safety (the care for and preservation of natural resources) is a critical factor to ensure mid-term and long-term conditions for local development, as they constitute the basis of all other economic and social systems. This requires providing environmental education, regulations and productive endeavors whose success be directly linked to the preservation of natural resources, as is the case with ecotourism, organic produce, the treatment of effluents, renewable energies, etc. An active base of environmental interests would be thus reinforced.

Socioeconomic safety does not intend to establish an egalitarianism that forbids rewarding those who make the greatest effort, who develop creativity and innovation; it rather seeks to ensure dignified standards of living by democratizing the access to opportunities. Its purpose is to facilitate the emergence of new social and economic entrepreneurs, capable of effectively mobilizing the local resources, without forgetting in the course of their attempt those who are left behind and the most unprotected. Promoting the socioeconomic inclusion of those who make up the bottom of the social pyramid is an imperative to be able to take away oxygen from and reduce the space for the reproduction of criminal activities.

In terms of socioeconomic and environmental safety, local governments can have an astonished look as, in general, they do not count on appropriate knowledge and instruments to tackle investments, encourage entrepreneurs, access markets and modern business engineering tools. Truly, local governments were traditionally geared to rendering basic services such as street lighting, sweeping and cleaning, water provision and drainage, maintenance of roads and public spaces, among many others. They ignored that governing is not just about carrying out public programs funded by their constantly limited budgets. At present, managing a locality has more and more to do with promoting, inducing, facilitating, catalyzing the mobilization of wills of other players who, as a whole, manage to help to materialize the goals pursued.

This requires summoning third parties from the credibility and transparency of a government team that makes goals and mechanisms to achieve them explicit and clear. Nowadays, local governments count on an unconventional battery of new instruments for promoting economic and social initiatives. Instruments promoted by the public sector but managed by other players, be they individual entrepreneurs, social, business or development organizations; instruments that are not funded by public resources but by the mobilization of contributions, savings and investments from other sources. These are initiatives that enable to bring closer to the local community specialized knowledge, i.e. identification of opportunities, management options, access to markets and technologies, commercial intelligence, that widely transcend the experience a local government can have. These initiatives must be integrated into the local development efforts but call for someone that can and know how to mobilize them. Hence, a critical role the local governments can play in the XXI Century.

There is a great many new mechanisms that can be established with the promotional action –not one of management or funding- of a local government; among others, local business developers, microfinance programs, socially and environmentally responsible angel investor networks, local funds to support productive investment, foundations and trusteeships (private or mixed) to finance social innovation, the action of civil society organizations and the involvement of universities and other educational institutions with small production, awareness programs of productive chain leading companies so that they engage in greater mesoeconomic responsibility (by incorporating in their decision matrix secondary effects on third parties and the community they operate in), and the list could go on and on.

(iii)A Final Reflection

The worst favor a local government could do to the new socioeconomic and environmental promotional roles would be to overlook its traditional responsibilities. Sounds paradoxical? However, it is not. It was pointed out that promoting development implies that the local government currently help to mobilize players capable of generating and maintaining economic, social, cultural or sports initiatives, and not that it assume their management. The critical promotional action must be exercised in line with the principle of being catalytic and subsidiary. That is, to facilitate that several initiative’s promotion engines germinate in the locality so as to multiply the impact on development and capture the wealth of the diversity of approaches and perspectives. The local government’s management capacity would be thus preserved and then, yes, the government could simultaneously face the new promotional actions and the practice of its traditional responsibilities.

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