The Civic Justice Model: Resolving Community Conflicts in Mexico
It is commonly assumed that drug trafficking and transnational organized crime is the main determinant of violence in Mexico; however, data tells that these are not the only reasons. Of the 33.6 million crimes committed in 2017, 28% fall under street / public transport robbery or assault, 20% relate to extortion, 14% to fraud, and 11% to vehicle theft.
Many crimes in Mexico are the result of insufficient law enforcement, rule of law deficiency, and impunity. Mexican residents are forced to accept violence as part of their life. According to the Mexican National Survey of Urban Public Safety (ENSU), more than 40% of adults reported an issue within the last three months, and 50% of these incidents escalated into a bigger conflict, such as exchange of insults and / or physical violence. Conflicts can quickly escalate into violence. The ENSU revealed that 88% of conflicts resulted in material damage, arguments and physical harm.
Because of all the above, it is important to think beyond how public force confronts organized crime and how the institutional structure related to drug trafficking works. It was paramount to devise a mechanism that provides an institutional solution to the most basic community conflicts. That was the reasoning behind the design of our Civic Justice Model.
The Civic Justice Model, developed by Morelia’s Municipal Commission of Security with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is a promising, effective strategy that responds to peacebuilding and development challenges. It also provides short-term solutions to swiftly resolve community conflicts and prevent the escalation of violence. These involve minor offences and misdemeanors such as fights, neighbor quarrels; public intoxication, driving under the influence, graffitiing and so on. The model is effective in promoting mediation resources for residents, by leveraging alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
The model is implemented at the municipal level, administered and led by Morelia’s Municipal Government, which sanctions misdemeanors. It is regulated by local rules, enforced by police and processed by the Municipal Court. The overview of the process is as follows:
1. Empowering Municipal Courts to represent all citizens
2. Promoting public and oral hearings
3. Promoting on-site, problem-oriented policing and police mediation
4. Promoting coexistence measures to find the underlying logic/drivers of the conflict
5. Implementing alternative solutions, such as therapy to offenders in need of treatment
This approach is reflected in the fact that actors, both local and national, believe in the effectiveness of this peacebuilding strategy.
Likewise, the model is formulated upon USAID’s Local Systems Framework, which bases the sustainability of its strategies on multi-actor collaboration. This approach is reflected in the fact that actors, both local and national, believe in the effectiveness of this peacebuilding strategy. Social leaders, NGOs, private sector, and educational institutions are the spine with which the local system takes hold in the community. For example, a local university developed and financed an alternative dispute resolution youth program (through cognitive behavioral therapy), where anger management issues are processed through the municipal court.
A series of output, outcome, and impact indicators were established as part of the model. These indicators measure the number of incidents and offenders, types of violence committed as well as the perception of security. However, it is too early to measure the degree of impact that the model has had on violence and crime statistics. Interestingly, anecdotal data suggests positive changes: the ENSU announced an annual decrease in homicides by 18% in 2018 and improved security perception by 10%.
Thanks to positive outcomes and the strength of its design, the model is rapidly expanding throughout Mexico. In 2019, more than 100 Mexican cities will receive Federal resources to implement civic justice’s strategies, institutionalizing it as a public policy.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Julisa Suárez Bucio, Municipal Commissioner at the Government of Morelia
Julisa Suárez Bucio obtained her PhD in Law from the Instituto de Formación e Investigaciones Jurídicas de Michoacán and Master in Accusatory Criminal Procedure Law from the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH). She worked as a litigating lawyer, a teacher in the field of Human Rights and as a parliamentary advisor in the both Chamber of Deputies of the Local Congress of Michoacán, and in the Senate of the Republic. Since September of 2019, she serves as Morelia’s Municipal Commissioner of Security at the Government of Morelia.