WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) questions the findings of one of the only studies to measure the impact of Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) anticrime programs.
The CEPR paper, “Have US-Funded CARSI Programs Reduced Crime and Violence in Central America?” by David Rosnick, Alexander Main, and Laura Jung, examines data collected during a Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) study and subjects them to a number of statistical tests. CEPR finds problems with the methodology used and that the study cannot support the conclusion that the areas subject to treatment in the CARSI programs showed better results than those areas that were not.
“Unfortunately, the study does not demonstrate a correlation between anticrime treatment and actual crime reduction outcomes,” Rosnick, an economist and computer scientist, said. “This is especially important considering ongoing congressional debates over funding support to Honduras and other countries, and the prevalence of crime in pushing people to flee the Northern Triangle countries of Central America.”
The study by the Vanderbilt University-based LAPOP is, to date, the only publicly accessible impact assessment of programs carried out under CARSI, a US government initiative that has received over a billion dollars in US funding. The CEPR paper attempts to evaluate the success of USAID-funded anticrime programs in Central America under CARSI, and identifies major problems with the LAPOP study, namely, the nonrandomness of the selection of treatment versus control areas and how the differences in initial conditions, as well as differences in results between treatment and control areas, have been interpreted. The paper notes that in the case of reported robberies, if the areas subject to treatment have an elevated level of reported robberies in the year prior to treatment, it is possible that there is some reversion to normal levels over the next year. The LAPOP methodology does not differentiate between effective treatment and, for example, an unrelated decline in reported robberies in a treated area following a year with an abnormally high number of reported robberies.
The CEPR paper finds that, given these faults with the methodology used, the study cannot support the conclusion that the areas subject to treatment in the CARSI programs showed better results than those areas that were not.
The paper notes that in some treatment areas, “Statistically, the possibility that intervention had no effect on reported robberies cannot be ruled out.”
“Hopefully more studies will be undertaken to examine how effectively US taxpayer dollars are being used to address very serious issues of crime in Central America,” Rosnick said. “Unfortunately, the only publicly accessible assessment available so far offers very little that’s useful for making such an evaluation.”