Crime drops in Cuenca and police credit citizen brigades and warnings to thieves for the trend

Jun 5, 2023 | 27 comments

Cuenca’s Citizen Guard and the National Police report that crime is dropping in Cuenca. According to the National Police, crime in the city has dropped in 78% of crime categories including violence against persons, robbery, car theft and murder since the beginning of the year.

Police credit neighborhood anti-crime brigades with helping to reduce crime in Cuenca.

The regional National Police Command said that dropping rates are the result of a number of factors, including the addition of 300 police personnel to the local force. Police also credit the formation of neighborhood crime brigades for deterring crime, particularly robberies and extorsion.

“We must acknowledge the impact of community efforts,” police spokesman Carlos Goya said. “Criminals are very aware of this and they see the signs warning them of the consequences of committing criminal acts.”

Goya added that the murder of two men suspected of attempting to extort businesses and a third suspected of motorcycle theft may also have served as a deterrent. “We are very clear, however, that the exercise of justice in private hands is illegal and will be prosecuted. Very often, vigilantes attack innocent people and sometimes kill them. Anyone suspected of criminal acts who is detained by private citizens should be turned over to the police unharmed.”

Leaders of several Cuenca neighborhood anti-crime groups say they are working with police to make sure they operate within the law. “We have had workshops with the police and Citizen Guard about detaining and holding people suspected of criminal actions and all our members are aware of the procedures,” says Gustavo Hernandez of the El Valle anti-crime brigade. “There is much anger toward thieves and vaccinators, but we understand that it is important that we operate under the rules.”

He adds: “It is not our intention to perpetuate the cycle of crime and violence. We are here to stop it.”

Parttime Cuenca expat and retired criminology professor Martin Simmons says the downward crime trend is encouraging but says Cuenca has always been a relatively safe city. “It is true crime rose in 2021 and 2022 but only by about 3% a year,” he says. “The problem is the attention to crime in Guayaquil and the coast and the tendency to assume it is spreading all over the country. The mainstream and social media focus on the 300% increase in murders by the drug gangs and don’t bother to mention that this activity is concentrated near the shipping and fishing ports.”

Even within Azuay Province, there are enormous discrepancies in crime, particularly murders, says Simmons. “I read an article in a Quito newspaper Friday and the headline said violence was rising in Cuenca and Azuay province. If you read the article, however, you discover that almost 60% of the murders in Azuay are committed in the Ponce Enríquez canton, which has less than 3% of the population of the province. Ponce Enríquez is on the Guayas Province border and is a center for illegal mining, which is also the domain of criminal gangs.”

He adds: “How often do you hear that Cuenca has a murder rate of six per 100,000, lower than most cities its size in the U.S.? What you hear, instead, is that Guayaquil has a rate of 37 per 100,000 and that Ecuador as a whole has a rate above 23.”

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