Treating violence like a disease helped cut Colombia's murder rate by 82%.

Many people today still associate Colombia with drugs, gangs and danger. But things are changing in the Latin American country: in 25 years, the murder rate has plummeted by 82%.


In 2002, the western city of Cali elected Rodrigo Guerrero as mayor. Guerrero, a Harvard-educated surgeon-turned-epidemiologist, understood violence as an epidemic transmitted from person to person. As with any epidemic, he tried to map the outbreak and understand its transmission. Data came first.

By mapping crimes, compiling more reliable homicide numbers and gathering information on precisely how murders were committed, Guerrero found that cartel reprisals and turf wars weren’t the only factors jacking up the murder rate. Location-specific and time-specific datasets showed that homicides spiked at certain times in certain places. Payday weekends were particularly explosive, as were the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings around nightclubs.

By imposing measurements based on the data collected the murder rate dropped by 35%.

Contagious peace

Cities, including Bogotá and Medellín, developed the approach, using data to inform prevention policies which slashed the murder rate while eschewing “iron fist” policing strategies that had become commonplace in much of Latin America. In Bogota, the homicide rate fell from 80 per 100,000 in 1993 to 16.7 per 100,000 today.

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