NDIGD researcher publishes book on citizen security in Central America

Author: Luis Ruuska

Fordham University Press has published a new book on policies and programs aimed at reducing crime and violence in Central America by Tom Hare, a senior technical associate at the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD), part of the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame.

The book, Zonas Peligrosas: The Challenge of Creating Safe Neighborhoods in Central America, is Hare's first and was released earlier this year. The book is the result of over a decade's worth of research by Hare, who began to look into violence in Central America while living and working in San Salvador, El Salvador, which is frequently ranked as one of the world's most violent cities.

"I watched my friends in San Salvador deal with the situation of crime and violence in their own ways. Some had to accompany their children to school each morning to make sure they got there safe. Others had to take time off of work to pick up their children and lost their jobs because of it. I attended funerals for friends' family members and saw how all of this impacted them," says Hare. "When I began the research, using my training in sociology and public policy analysis, I was interested in seeing how communities do or do not come together to solve the problem of violence."

Over the next few years, Hare repeatedly returned to four communities in San Salvador to collect data on policies and programs aimed at reducing crime and violence through surveys, interviews, and reviewing government statistics at the local and national level. "Sociological concepts like disorganization theory, collective efficacy, and social cohesion have all been used as the foundation for several policies and programs designed to curb violence in Honduras," explains Hare. "I wanted to see if these concepts had anything to do with violence."

After analyzing the data, Hare concluded that in at least these cases, popular sociological concepts related with crime and violence did not hold the strong associations that had been assumed by policymakers. "The biggest takeaway of this book is not only these specific findings in San Salvador, but to understand that it is okay to look at policy and program theories overall and challenge them and really make sure that they are sound all the way through before we accept them," says Hare.

With new and large amounts of data made available through a number of ongoing NDIGD and Notre Dame projects in Central America, Hare incorporates these findings into projects where NDIGD works with local and international partners to strengthen violence reduction programs and policies. Hare says he will continue his research and practice on the issue of violence in the region moving forward.

"For this book, I was really focused on sociological concepts, but I will continue to work with faculty at Notre Dame, especially in fields like psychology, to better understand the individual-level characteristics that are important in violence reduction policies and programs," explains Hare. "Without hyperbole, these policies and programs really are a question of life and death. However, you also see their impact—or lack thereof—in things like the amount of migrants fleeing Central America and coming to the United States as a last resort to escape the violence. Using research to inform practice on these important global issues is what we try to do at NDIGD and in the Keough School."

Zonas Peligrosas is available for purchase through Fordham University Press and other major booksellers.

The Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development—an integral part of the new Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame—works to address global poverty and inequality through policy, practice, and partnership.

Contact: Luis Ruuska, communications specialist, Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, lruuska@nd.edu