Last week I had the opportunity to meet with law enforcement agents participating in a project we have underway in El Salvador. In the city of Santa Tecla, there is a project called Seguridad Inalámbrica (Wireless Security).
Qualcomm, through our Wireless Reach initiative and our project partners, is putting 3G mobile phones into the hands of law enforcement personnel to aid in recording and tracking crime.
It’s hot and humid in Santa Tecla even in early May. But all involved – USAID, RTI International and local law enforcement agencies – are excited about the promise of this new system.
Why the excitement? Because it represents a potential solution to a very pressing problem. Crime rates have been increasing in almost all the countries of Central America. The region as a whole registers the world’s highest rates of ordinary (non political) violence. And the overall homicide rate for the region is equal to more than three times the worldwide rate. And sadly, El Salvador’s rates lead that of other countries in the region.
I realize that this is a very sobering image of El Salvador. But at the May 12th ceremony, it was clear to me that Salvadorians are very proud of their country. El Salvador is known for being a country of hard workers and the security of their country is a top issue for them.
Both the Mayor of Santa Tecla and the Commissioner of the National Civil Police spoke at length about their commitment to solving El Salvador’s tough security challenges. They talked about owning and sustaining this program, so that it becomes the new model for inter-agency cooperation and coordination. Their passion and pride showed me how committed they are to “Salir Adelante” (finishing ahead), a phrase I heard often during the ceremony.
At the ceremony, all of the partners introduced the project to the community and the media. The event was held in a parking lot in front of the Santa Tecla Municipal Violence Prevention Observatory. The Observatory is a newly created agency with a mission to centralize and analyze information that can be used by the various crime prevention authorities to provide better security for Santa Tecla’s residents.
The Observatory is a small, one-story building with a red-tiled roof that sits on the edge of the “Cafetalon,” which is a large park with sports fields (formally a coffee plantation). The Observatory is new, and the Cafetalon has recently been renovated. It is one of a few open spaces that Salvadorians can use to be outside and play sports. And it provided an excellent backdrop for talking about the Seguridad Inalámbrica project, which has been created to find better ways to fight crime – to ensure that people are safe in El Salvador’s precious outdoor spaces.
But how does Seguridad Inalámbrica aid in reducing crime? A 3G-enabled mobile device and application are put into the hands of officers, allowing them to report crime from as close as possible to the location where the crime occurred and to immediately transmit this data to a crime mapping database. This is important because there are multiple enforcement organizations in Santa Tecla. Often, the National Civilian Police force works with the Corps of Metropolitan Agents — and each has different responsibilities and jurisdictions. Many times a crime is discovered by one and then investigated by another.
Seguridad Inalámbrica allows officers from many agencies to quickly enter information into a single report using just one system. This data is then displayed on detailed maps and analyzed by officials from the Observatory, who identify high-risk locations and changes in crime patterns. This analysis aids in the prompt allocation of resources (e.g., putting more officers on a particular street). It also allows for the tracking the impact of prevention programs (e.g., putting more street lights up).
During the ceremony, I was struck by the realization that many Salvadorians are bi-national – what I mean by this is that many Salvadorians have immediate family in the United States. The second largest community of Salvadorians is in Los Angeles which is not far from Qualcomm’s headquarters. There are also large populations residing in Washington, D.C. and other parts of the United States. In fact, Erica Whinston, Qualcomm’s manager for this project and Aldo Miranda, who leads RTI’s office in El Salvador, both have family in the U.S. and El Salvador. This bi-national relationship with the United States must contribute to the ease in which everyone has welcomed Qualcomm and the project. They are open to innovation and want to collaborate to bring new methods and practices into their lives.
This aligns very well with Qualcomm’s belief that by connecting people and devices as never before, wireless communications has the power to unlock human potential – improving our quality of life. Our work in El Salvador is far from done. We need to monitor the project to evaluate the impact of this access to data. And we are continuing to work together to expand this project and create new opportunities, so that together, we can Salir Adelante!