Security is a Constant Concern and Obsession for People in Medellín
Medellín was one of the most violent and insecure cities in the world during the 1990s, especially during the era of Pablo Escobar Gaviria. There was a clear dominance of drug cartels and irregular armed groups. As a result, the city’s name made international headlines with red alerts and shocking daily death tolls. Public safety has always been a matter of great importance in Medellín. Both residents and expatriates are interested in having up-to-date information about crime. In this article, we will examine in detail the actual crime data in Medellín for the years 2022 vs. 2021, specifically focusing on 2022 and the observed trends until mid-2023.
Thus, getting acquainted with and analyzing the statistical data of the most frequently committed crimes in Medellín allows us to understand the current situation and take appropriate measures to avoid, as much as possible, becoming part of the daily figures of victims in the city, especially as a tourist or expatriate. Join us in this special edition on criminality.
According to the prestigious non-governmental organization (NGO) Como Vamos in 2022, security is a concern for more than half of the people in Medellin. Out of the surveyed citizens (a representative sample of 1616 individuals from various sectors and socio-economic strata), 54% express fear of being victims of robberies in their neighborhoods. As a result, they expect the authorities to effectively control the crime rates in the city. Only 46% of the respondents believe that the security situation is good.
From the Reign of Pablo Escobar to Total Peace
Unfortunately, there are still people who talk about Medellín as if we were in the year 1991 when levels of violence and insecurity were widespread, leading the city to become the most dangerous in the world. It has been over 20 years since that darkest period of Medellín. In 1993, Pablo Escobar, a criminal leader, was executed in a bloody confrontation with the police. In the years that followed, the authorities gradually took control of extensive areas that they couldn’t reach before, which were realms of crime and anarchy.
In 2016, the National Government signed a peace agreement with the country’s main guerrilla group, the FARC-EP. Currently, there are still some localized conflicts with dissident factions of the FARC, the ELN, and the Clan del Golfo.
In March 2023, the government initiated a negotiation process with some of the criminal groups operating in the city, such as “La Oficina de Envigado,” as part of the Paz Total and Social Forgiveness project, led by President Gustavo Petro. Some of these groups have agreed to a ceasefire and a systematic reduction in clashes between rival gangs.
Official Crime Data as of The End of 2022
As is customary, Mayor Daniel Quintero Calle provided an update on the issue of citizen security in the city in 2022. This update is the result of the intensive work led by the National Police of Colombia, in conjunction with the City’s Secretariat (Secretary) of Security and Citizen Coexistence. We will now present the details of this update.
Important Note: For the preparation of this report, we have consulted the crime statistics databases of the city, including those from the National Police, the Department of Security and Coexistence, as well as the non-governmental organization Como Vamos and journalistic sources. It is worth noting that the information on crimes may vary among sources due to different processes and entities involved from the moment of reporting to the clarification of the incident. Currently, the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office are working together to unify the crime figures in their respective databases, which may result in variations since 2018. Considering that there are cases that go unreported to the authorities, particularly in relation to theft-related offences, we have used the higher figures for these crimes to provide a report that is closer to reality.
Homicides Have Slightly Decreased Compared to Previous Years
Homicides are a crime of great concern for the community as a whole. According to official data for 2022, there were 392 cases of homicide in the city, which represents an average of 15 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in Medellín. This is always a regrettable figure. However, there is a 3% reduction compared to previous years, and it is below the national average in Colombia, which was 23 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants as of the end of 2022.
In 2022, the city of Medellín achieved several historic records in the fight against crimes affecting life, according to the annual report of the Medellín Mayor’s Office. During the period from 2020 to 2022, the city experienced its least violent period in recent history, signifying a significant decrease in violence rates.
Specifically, the 16 districts of Medellín displayed the lowest levels of violence in the past 10 years during the period from 2020 to 2022. Additionally, in the current year, 17 out of the 21 districts and townships have witnessed a reduction in homicides, which is an encouraging statistic. It should be noted that despite the overall positive results, homicides increased in 7 Comunas in 2022.
An important fact to highlight is that in 2022, there were 123 non-consecutive days without homicides recorded in the city. This reflects the efforts made by authorities and the community in preventing and combating violence, contributing to the promotion of a safer and protected environment for the residents of Medellín.
Overall Theft and Robberies Increased in 2022 - Citizens Demand Police Action
At the end of 2022, 28,142 cases of theft from persons were reported, which reveals a 20% increase over the previous year in the incidence of this crime, i.e. 4603 more than in 2021. Additionally, within the category of robberies, we also have related sub-categories such as motorcycle theft, car theft, residential theft, robbery of commercial establishments, as well as the crimes of personal injury and extortion, which are generally related to robbery with violence. Globally, in 2022 there was an increase of 5,492 more cases than in 2021, which represents a 10% increase over the previous year.
The overall results are contrasting, as on one hand, homicides show a positive trend of reduction each year. On the other hand, the increasing incidence of all types of robberies represents a significant challenge for authorities and citizens who feel insecure in the city and at the mercy of criminals, despite the efforts of the police to control crime and improve daily indicators
These indicators represent a constant concern for the city and involve, on the one hand, a constant effort by the police authorities and, on the other hand, raising community awareness of the importance of prevention.
Data for Homicides in Medellín (Mid-Year 2023)
Here is a graph depicting the incidence of homicide by Comuna, allowing us to see the trend as of mid-2023.
In order to truly understand the situation, it is necessary to compare the current figures with previous years. This allows us to see that, overall. The areas with the highest incidence of this crime have remained consistent over time.
The figures for 2023 include the first 6 months of the year. The rest are annual records.
Below are some salient observations based on the graph:
The barrios of Robledo, Villa Hermosa, La America & San Javier all experienced a 5-year decline in homicides. Even after the lockdowns of 2020, when the streets were quiet, homicides continued to fall. This is encouraging.
La Candelaria(El Centro) is by far the most dangerous Comuna of the city with a stubborn rate of homicide over the years. In 2019 there were 87. In 2020, the lockdowns dropped to 50, only for it to spring back up to 80 in 2021., and 75 in 2022. For the first 6 months of 2023, La Candelaria has recorded 32 deaths, putting it on path for a 5-year high. Note that this is not simply due to population, as both Robledo and Belen are more populous Comunas than La Candelaria.
During the first half of 2023, El Poblado experienced 2 homicides. While this is already on par with the 2020 record, it is significantly lower than the 9 recorded homicides in 2021 and the 6 in 2022.
The zona de Laureles-Estadio has shown an increase in violence rates in recent years. Homicides went from 17 in 2021 to 19 in 2022, representing a 12% increase compared to the previous year. As of the middle of 2023, 8 homicides have been recorded.
In the majority of the city’s sectors, homicides were lower in 2020 than in 2019, 2021 an 2022. This is due to Covid-19 lockdowns which stripped the streets of activity.
For all but 2 Comunas, 2019 was the most violent year.
Comunas With Highest Number of Homicides (Mid-Year 2023)
Medellín’s four comunas with the highest # of homicides so far in 2022 are:
- La Candelaria – accounting for 20%.
- Aranjuez with 10% , Manrique & Belen all accounting for 7% each.
As we can see, in the first half of 2023, there have been variations in the incidence of homicides in different Comunas of Medellín. Some areas have experienced a significant decrease in the number of cases, which may indicate the success of the prevention and security strategies implemented in those areas. However, it is important to continue monitoring and strengthening preventive actions in neighborhoods with higher homicide rates.
Distribution of Homicides in Medellín (2023)
Using the same data, we have formatted a pie chart to better see the distribution of total homicides amongst the tourist friendly neighbourhoods (Jan 1 – 10 June, 2023):
As the pie chart shows, the three most touristic neighbourhoods of Medellín experienced only 13% of all total homicides for 2023 (mid-year).
By contrast, a high concentration of this year’s murders have occurred within the 1 comuna of El Centro (23%).
The most tourist friendly neighbourhoods in Medellín are, as expected, the least likely for murder to occur. These areas are also the highest patrolled by security & police.
The data corroborates that if you stick to the right areas and avoid risky activities, your threat of being murdered is low.
55% of All Car Thefts Occurred in just 6 of Medellín's 22 comunas (2023)
Over half of all car thefts for 2022 took place in just 6 of Medellín’s neighbourhoods. This reveals a disparity with El Poblado experiencing 3% of all the city’s car thefts.
Conversely, the other two neighbourhoods popular with tourists – Laureles & Belen – accounted for 23% of all car thefts.
Generally, foreigners are less affected by this modality of crime as the prevalence of drivers remains low.
Ranking of Homicides and Robberies Against Individuals By Comuna 2019-2023 (Mid-Year)
Beyond the annual and mid-year figures, it is important to understand the geographical concentration of crimes that cause major concern to the community, such as Homicides and Robberies against Individuals. Therefore, we have conducted the cumulative consolidation of cases by Comuna from 2019 to mid-year 2023 to gain a clearer understanding of the trend and confirm: Which areas historically have a higher risk of becoming a victim? Let’s take a look at the following table:
Analyzing the incidence of crimes by Comuna and comparing the data from 2023 and 2022 with previous years is relevant. By evaluating the numbers, specific patterns and trends in each Comuna of Medellín can be identified. This allows for a more precise understanding of the challenges and the implementation of appropriate strategies to address them.
La Candelaria tops the Homicide ranking in the period 2019-2023 (Mid-year), with a total of 332 cases, representing 17% of the city’s homicides. Aranjuez follows with 147 cases, Bélen with 142, Robledo with 138, San Javier with 127, San Cristóbal with 116, Castilla and Villa Hermosa each accumulate 110 cases. Similarly, we see that Laureles-Estadio, an area with a prevalence of expatriates and tourists, ranks ninth with 78 homicides, representing 4% of the total homicides. Finally, the tenth position is occupied by the 12 de Octubre Commune with 77 reported homicide cases in that time period. El Poblado ranks 19th out of 21 Comunas, with 28 homicide cases, representing just 1% of the total cases.
Regarding the cumulative ranking of the crime of robbery against individuals, La Candelaria continues to hold the top position, as observed in previous years. However, we see a clearly different trend compared to the previously analyzed homicide crime. The second and third places are occupied by areas of higher economic strata. Laureles-Estadio secures the second position with 12,570 reported robberies in nearly five years, followed by the affluent area of El Poblado with 12,236. Bélen follows with 7,557 cases, Aranjuez with 6,476, Castilla with 5,925, Robledo with 4,882, Guayabal with 4,439, La America with 3,963, and Buenos Aires with 3,753 robberies. Together, these 10 communes account for 87% of the reported robberies against individuals in the period 2019-2023 (Mid-Year).
While most of these figures do not come as a surprise, they help to reaffirm the current crime map of Medellin. We can see that there are areas that are still under the influence of criminal gangs, and in these areas, there is still a high level of criminal violence. It becomes a real challenge for the police, and as a result, the authorities increase the investment of economic, human, and technological resources to minimize the incidence of these crimes.
Medellin's Tourist Neighbourhoods Continue to be Hotspots of Robbery
El Poblado, Laureles, and Belén are the three most inhabited Comunas by tourists in the city. They have all the amenities of a modern, comfortable, and upscale neighborhood. Unfortunately, this makes them ideal targets for thieves and criminals.
Together, they account for 31% of all personal robberies occurring in the first half of 2023, a figure considered high. In 2022, we saw an increase of 199 robbery cases compared to 2021, representing an annual percentage increase of 10%. Although there is an improvement in this indicator so far in 2023, it is a concern for the expatriate community as robberies are the type of crime they are most likely to fall victim to. Despite the alarming numbers, the risk remains relatively low. Remember, hundreds of thousands of annual visitors come to Medellín without any issues. Additionally, there are ways to mitigate this threat. Please read below for some essential tips.
Colombia's Crime Rate Continues to Drop From the 90s
Medellin is not the only city in Colombia that is striving to improve crime rates.
The country has come a long way since the 1990s, with results that speak for themselves. Here we can see an overall positive change, despite the challenges, in the crime rate in Colombia in recent times.
Let’s be clear – Colombia still has its problems. Inbound travellers should be more vigilant here than in let’s say, Western Europe or Canada.
Having said that, this 20-year downward trend is impressive. Compare it to countries like Venezuela, Mexico, Sweden, or even the US where crime is on the up.
Crime & homicide rates may have dropped from international records, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve been subdued entirely.
Contrarily, petty crime is an obstinate feature of life in Medellín – that can and does weigh on some people over time, especially if they’ve been victims themselves.
World Ranking of Violent Cities - Where did Medellin rank in 2022?
Below is the ranking of the world’s most dangerous cities in 2022. Unfortunately, the city of Celaya takes the unfortunate first place with a rate of 109 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Tijuana, Juárez, Ciudad Obregón, Irapuato, and Ensenada, all in Mexico. Moving on, St. Louise in the United States occupies the seventh spot with an average of 87 deaths. Next on the list is Uruapan, also in Mexico, ranking eighth with a rate of 72 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Following closely is Feira de Santana in Brazil, holding the ninth position. Finally, Cape Town in South Africa completes the feared top ten with a rate of 64 homicides per 100,000 people. It’s worth noting that Medellín has a rate of 15 deaths as of the end of 2022, which clearly keeps it far away from the most dangerous places on the planet.
Conclusions Regarding the Crime Figures in Medellín
Despite a quantitative reduction in the incidence of homicides and personal injuries for the third consecutive year (3% in 2022 vs. 2021), making it the least violent year in four decades, there has been an increase in various types of robberies targeting individuals over 14%. This poses a significant challenge for the police and the community at large.
The Comunas of La Candelaria, Aranjuez, Belén, Robledo, San Javier, San Cristóbal, Castilla, and Villa Hermosa are high-risk areas with a concentration of 64% of historical homicide cases over nearly five years (2019-2023 mid-year). Among the preferred areas for tourists and expatriates, Belén has recorded 142 deaths, followed by Laureles with 78 homicides. Despite having 28 cases, El Poblado ranks 19th out of 21 Comunas. These three Comunas with a higher expatriate presence represent only 13% of the city’s total homicide cases.
For several years now, Medellin has been a much safer city compared to some other cities in Latin America and even the United States.
The Colombian Police, along with the City Hall, work together to maintain control over crime rates. Despite these efforts, Medellin still faces the pressure to reduce crime rates, particularly in areas affected by economic downturns, as well as in areas where economic progress and tourism are concentrated. These areas tend to attract the attention of criminals because they see them as places where they can find potential victims.
- Avoid walking alone in neighborhoods with high crime rates. Prudence will keep you safe.
- Take care of your belongings and avoid displaying them on the street. If you use flashy mobile phones, cameras, or accessories, you will immediately attract the attention of criminals.
- Avoid exposing yourself to higher-risk situations, such as Tinder dates, sexual services, buying drugs, or getting involved in street fights.