Aug 252011

This question is far more complicated to answer than might initially appear. To start with there are two primary sources of homicide data in Mexico which provide very different results and vary significantly from state to state and year to year.  The National System of Public Security (SNSP) compiles homicide statistics from police reports and investigations.  The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) obtains homicide data from death certificates reported through the Ministry of Health. For 2010, SNSP reported 35,053 homicides in Mexico, while INEGI – Reporta el INEGI más de 24 mil muertes en 2010 – reported 24,374 homicides.

For a very interesting comparison (in Spanish) of trends over time for these two data sources, including a detailed look at the trends in some individual states, see:

For two earlier posts using SNSP data, see:

What factors may explain why the data is so different?

The terminology associated with homicides is very complex. This is equally true in English and Spanish. Even the basic subcategories do not necessarily match closely from the legal system in one country to that in another. Legal definitions and classifications depend in part on subjective decisions by officials concerning such things as the perpetrator’s motive, intent and state of mind.

In general terms, homicide (homicidio) means the deliberate killing of one person by another. A homicide may be either an:

  • intentional homicide or murder (homicidio doloso) or an
  • involuntary homicide, negligent homicide or case of manslaughter (homicidio culposo)

In some jurisdictions, intentional homicides are further divided into such categories as “first degree murder” and “second degree murder”.

The data associated with homicides are at least as complicated as the legal definitions. Statistics originating from police records will never exactly match those coming from death certificates or public records. For instance, some individuals may have been recorded originally as dying from accidents, natural causes or suicide on their death certificates, but then shown later to have been intentionally killed (murdered) and therefore counted in police records as murder victims. There are numerous possible scenarios in which the police data will differ from the data recorded on death certificates.

Differences in terminology, definitions and application may explain some of the differences in the two data sets, but is very unlikely to explain 100% of such significant differences, so care is needed before drawing any conclusions about Mexico’s homicide rate.

What do the figures for homicides suggest?

In 2000, INEGI, Mexico’s National Statistics Agency, recorded 10,743 homicides in Mexico. This number dropped gradually to 8,897 in 2007 before jumping up to 14,006 in 2008, 19,803 in 2009 and leaping  23% in 2010 to 24,374. Current information suggests the number of homicides will be at least as high in 2011.

The SNSP data have become significantly higher than INEGI data in recent years. They also show an increase in the number of homicides in 2010 (compared to 2009), but of only 11%.  Both data sets indicate a rapid increase. This is especially troublesome given that murder rates had declined rather steadily up until the “drugs war” started in earnest in 2007.

If we average the INEGI and SNSP numbers, it suggests that the overall 2010 homicide rate was about 27 per 100,000 population.

How does Mexico’s murder (intentional homicide) rate compare to that in other countries?

Wikipedia’s list of intentional homicide (murder) rates claims that Mexico’s murder rate in 2010 was 15 per 100,000. SNSP data for Mexico show 2010 figures of 18 per 100,000. Either of these figures is very high compared to Canada (1.6 per 100,000), Peru (3.2) or the USA (5). On the other hand, Mexico’s homicide rate is rather low compared to Honduras (78), El Salvador (65), Venezuela (48), South Africa (34) and Brazil (25). In 2007, Mexico’s murder rate was about 8.4 per 100,000, very close to the world average.

How many of Mexico’s murders are drug-war related?

Data released last January by the Mexican government indicated that drug-war deaths increased in 2010 by 5,659 from 9,614 to 15,273. These data suggest that 63% of Mexico’s intentional homicides in 2010 were related to drug violence compared to only 49% in 2009, 28% 2007 and roughly 10% in 2006. In fact, non-drug-war-related intentional homicides in Mexico appear to have declined 11% from 10,189 in 2009 to 9,101 in 2010, less than the total number of homicides in any year from 2000 through 2006.

This brings us back to our original question, “Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing?” Yes, they are increasing, but only as a result of the much publicized “war on drugs”. It is likely that if there was no drugs war, then Mexico’s homicide rate would be continuing to decline, consistent with its long-term trend.

Related posts, relying on data issued by the Office of the President of Mexico:

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