Monday, September 19, 2011

Dodgy Numbers on Organized Crime

New piece:

Peter Andreas, the co-editor of "Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts," a book released in 2010, makes the case that there is much reason for concern over the statistics that are used to measure the drug war. As he writes: “One DEA agent describes his desk job in the Latin America headquarters: ‘The other half of the job is makin’ up fact sheets and briefing papers -- you know, statistical bullshit, how we’re winnin’ the war -- so one of these clowns can go on TV or testify before Congress.’ When asked where he got the statistics, he laughed. ‘Outta yer head, where else?’”


Drug trafficking isn’t the only illicit industry where this lack of clarity and precision in estimates is a problem, though often the numbers are not just unreliable, but non-existent. There are no formal government estimates regarding the revenues of kidnapping and extortion, two of the crimes that most worry policy-makers and ordinary Mexicans. (Indeed, because both the victims and perpetrators have an incentive not to report the crimes, an informed estimate is probably impossible.) For other crimes, like pirate merchandise and smuggling undocumented migrants, current estimates fail to give a good sense of the nature of the industry.

Media and government reports suggest that these crimes have exploded in recent years, as has the involvement of the nation’s largest gangs. Yet beyond that general sense, little is known. Despite an ocean of statistics, a clear picture of the revenue structures for gangs like the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel does not exist, which makes it difficult to formulate a comprehensive plan to attack them.

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