Are Mexican cartels anything like Boston gangs?

As long as I’m busy comparing patterns of violence within the US and abroad, here’s another article worth a look.  At Foreign Intrigue, Dan Fisher writes that Mexican authorities might do well to replace their failed tactic of taking down cartel kingpins with an approach targeted at suppressing only the most violent cartels.  This strategy was used to successfully reduce armed violence by Boston gangs in the 1990s.

A different, and potentially more effective, approach would be to focus enforcement on the most violent DTOs, and on the most violent individuals within those DTOs.[iii] Such an approach would represent a permutation of the highly successful Operation Ceasefire, which involved a whole-of-law-enforcement and judicial system effort to pull all available “levers” in order to reduce gang-related gun violence in Boston, MA.  … Operation Ceasefire accounted for a 60% decline in youth homicide victimization in Boston. To achieve this outcome, authorities publically announced a new enforcement strategy targeting the most violent street gangs. The strategy accounted for the fact that a relatively small number of youth were the most prone to killing or being killed, reflecting an iteration of the Pareto Principle described earlier. The public announcement was coupled with conversations with gang members, in order to communicate that acts of gun violence would be prioritized for enforcement. This, along with the “pulling levers” approach, produced a substantial deterrence effect, resulting in the aforementioned significant decline in youth homicide victimization.

I’m trying to think through whether this type of strategy would also be applicable to rebel groups – the analogy doesn’t seem exact to me, but I’m still trying to figure out why not.  Would love to hear others’ thoughts as well!

5 thoughts on “Are Mexican cartels anything like Boston gangs?

  1. I disagree with gentlebenno. What it comes down to is whether or not authorities are able to attribute individual acts of violence (perpetrated by street gangs, DTOs, or insurgent organizations) to the group who actually committed the act. If you can solve the attribution problem, then you’ve got a mechanism for forcing these extra-governmental/non-state actor groups to go about their business more peacefully. Under this approach, a DTO would continue to traffic drugs, but would do so while committing less violence–not the ideal outcome, but one that would at least secure greater peace. Applied to insurgent groups attempting to effect political change, this approach would force those groups to engage in the political process in a more legitimate fashion. The trick is dual buy-in: the government has to be able to accept some extent of political integration with the rebels, in return for reduced violence–a tough proposition for governments that are ideologically aligned against the rebels they fight, but not, in my opinion, totally outside the realm of feasibility.


  2. Whether they target kingpins or cartels, Mexico probably can’t implement something similar to Boston. The reach of drugs and corruption is on a scale exponentially greater than the challenges Boston, or Chicago, faces. The only way out of the crisis is the slow, methodical way Columbia did it. Medellin got better for a variety of reasons, I’m not 100% on the details, but I get the idea that the police were a sideshow to broader community efforts. Likewise I don’t think it would work for rebel groups. Because if rebels exist, the problems are beyond what the police can solve through various enforcement methods.


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