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Patterns of Homicide -- Cali, Colombia, 1993-1994

In Colombia, as in the United States, homicide occurs disproportionately among urban residents (1,2). Homicide rates in the city of Cali, Colombia (1994 population: 1,776,436), increased fivefold from 1985 through 1992, reaching levels of 100 per 100,000 persons. Because of this increase, in 1992 the city of Cali established the Development, Security, and Peace Program (DESEPAZ) to implement a series of strategies to prevent violence and improve security among the residents of Cali. An important element of this program was the establishment of a surveillance system to enable characterization of patterns and determinants of homicide to provide information to decision makers for formulating policies and programs. This report summarizes findings from this system for January 1993-May 1994.

Data about homicide are collected daily and reviewed weekly by a committee with representatives from the police department, the public health service, the district attorney's office, the ombudsman's office, the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, and the department of transportation, under the coordination of an epidemiologist assigned by the mayor's office (3). The list of cases is developed by comparing reports from the different sources represented on the committee. Tabulation and mapping of homicides are distributed weekly to the participating groups and to the news media.

In 1993, a total of 1829 homicides occurred in Cali, representing a crude rate of 104 homicides per 100,000 residents. In 1994, a total of 866 homicides occurred during January-May, compared with 625 for the same 5-month period in 1993. In 1993, age group-specific rates were highest among men aged 25-29 years (450 per 100,000) (Figure_1). Overall, the risk for homicide among males was 16-fold higher than that among females (209 per 100,000 and 13 per 100,000, respectively).

Homicides were clustered in specific areas of the city: more than one half (54%) occurred in 59 neighborhoods in which 37% of the population resided. Homicide rates varied inversely with the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood of residence of victims and was greatest in three areas: an inner-city location near downtown Cali (rate: 254 per 100,000), a large area of immigrant settlements on the east side (rate: 245 per 100,000), and an area on the west side of the city (rate: 167 per 100,000). In most (89%) cases, homicides occurred in the same neighborhood in which the victim resided.

Of the 2695 total homicides during January 1993-May 1994, for 2461 (91%) no suspect was charged with the murder. For 641 (24%) of all homicides, the suspected perpetrator was identified as a "hit man" (i.e., a hired assassin) (458 {71%}), gang member (91 {14%}), or a relative/acquaintance (62 {10%}). The circumstance was determined for 835 (31%) homicides; of these, the most frequently cited categories were assaults (309 {37%}) and brawls (261 {31%}). Most (2544 {94%}) homicides occurred in streets or other public places; 6% occurred in homes or other residential settings. A total of 2134 (79%) homicides were committed using firearms. During 1994, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was determined for 98% of the decedents; the BAC was greater than 0.15 g/dL in 23% of the persons.

Homicides occurred more commonly (43%) during weekend days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) -- especially during weekends coinciding with biweekly paydays. The hour of death was known for 2631 homicides; of these, 51% occurred between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Reported by: V Espitia, MS, Office for the Epidemiology of Violence, Municipality of Cali; R Guerrero, MD, Pan American Health Organization, Cali, Colombia. A Concha, MD, National Center for Injury Surveillance and Research; C Sanchez, MD, VM Cardenas, MD, Colombian Field Epidemiology Training Program, National Institute of Health. Div of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The data summarized in this report are from the first population-based homicide surveillance system established in Latin America. These findings are being used to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of DESEPAZ, which include efforts to enhance public security by enforcing state and city regulations and using the Mayor's office to issue decrees and laws that further enhance security (4). For example, in response to the relation between homicide and alcohol use, the mayor restricted the hours during which alcoholic beverages could be sold. Similarly, the high proportion of homicides committed with guns prompted institution of prohibitions on carrying guns in public during high-risk weekends, holidays, and election days. In addition, the city initiated efforts to educate members of the community through the news media, schools, and families about resolving conflicts without violence.

To address homicide in areas of the city where the risk has been highest and the socioeconomic status of residents lowest, social and economic development projects are being implemented to provide housing, primary health care, and job opportunities for residents, especially persons in high-risk groups (e.g., prostitutes, street children, and members of youth gangs). Other actions include improving the quality of the relationship between the police and the community, the modernization of the judicial system, and the promotion and protection of human rights. The homicide surveillance data are being used to evaluate the impact of these policies and programs on homicide rates.

Violence is a problem that affects urban areas throughout the Americas. In 1991, the average homicide rate for the 15 largest cities in Colombia (excluding Medellin {rate: 435 per 100,000}) was 61 per 100,000 (1). In comparison, in the United States in 1991, the crude homicide rate was 32 per 100,000 for cities with populations greater than or equal to 1 million (2). The Pan American Health Organization with assistance from CDC and other organizations is working to promote the application of public health surveillance, analysis, and evaluation methods to assist countries in this region in reducing the problem.


  1. Gaitan Daza F, Diaz Moreno J. The violence in Colombia: some basic explanations. In: Concha Eastman A, Carrion F, Cobo G, eds. Cities and violence in Latin America. Urban management series, vol 2. Quito, Ecuador: United Nations Urban Management Program, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1994:75-97.

  2. US Department of Justice. Crime in the United States, 1991. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1992.

  3. Eugenia Espitia V, Guerrero Velasco R, Concha Eastman A. Homicide surveillance in Cali, January to December of 1993: the application of epidemiology to public administration. In: Concha Eastman A, Carrion F, Cobo G, eds. Cities and violence in Latin America. Urban management series, vol 2. Quito, Ecuador: United Nations Urban Management Program, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1994:155-66.

  4. Guerrero Velasco R, Concha Eastman A, Alvarez A, Cobo G, de Roux G, Alzate S. Development, Security, and Peace Program (DESEPAZ): strategies of the Cali mayor's office for addressing the insecurity and the violence. In: Concha Eastman A, Carrion F, Cobo G, eds. Cities and Violence in Latin America. Urban management series, vol 2. Quito, Ecuador: United Nations Urban Management Program, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1994: 119-53.


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