• Carlos Munoz Burgos

The link between countering violent extremism and crime and violence prevention

The link between countering violent extremism (CVE) and crime and violence prevention (CVP) is not only present in the obvious: both fields have the word violence, or a form of it, in their titles. While it is true that both fields focus on groups or individuals who use violence as a means to achieve their goals, their main objective is to understand why these groups and individuals resort to violence and what can be done to prevent it. The literature sometimes also refers to CVE as PVE (preventing violent extremism), meaning that an important focus is placed on identifying actions that can prevent people from committing violent acts or engaging in groups that sponsor violence.

CVP has generally been analyzed from law enforcement or criminalistics perspectives, with a heavy focus on suppression. However, in regions such as Central America, where governments have used a mano dura (iron fist) approach to crime and violence, violence - as the number of homicides per every 100,000 people - has increased. This is because repressive measures leads to the incarceration of individuals who commit minor offences, leading to prison overcrowding. This overcrowding results in minor offenders being placed with gang, extremist, or criminal group leaders, who use the minor offenders as easy recruits for their groups and purposes. Also, iron fist approaches are usually associated with human rights violations.

In crime and violence prevention, a common indicator to determine whether programs are effective is the homicide rate. This is because homicides are easier to quantify. In places such as Central America’s Northern triangle, lack of trust in the police leads to crime underreporting, and that is why the homicide rate is the best indicator to measure violence in this setting.

Although, terrorism and violent extremism has been around for many years (some claim that modern terrorism started by Irgun with the King David Hotel bombing in Israel in 1946), when compared to CVP, CVE has struggled in the past years to clearly define its strategies and goals. This starts from the fact that there is not a widely-used definition of CVE or PVE. CVE has mainly been approached from a conflict studies perspective and has focused heavily on interventions at the community level. As a result, programs ranging from education quality improvement to economic growth have been placed under the CVE umbrella. Given the difficulty with defining CVE, it has also been difficult to come up with adequate indicators to determine whether CVE programs are successful.

Both criminal organizations (violent gangs, drug trafficking organizations, bands, etc.) and violent extremist groups resort to violence to achieve their goals and objectives, and much has been studied and written about these groups and how to prevent violence. As a result, there is ample ground for cross-disciplinary learning, and both fields can greatly contribute to a better understanding of the other. 

It is important to understand that there are key differences between these two groups, including their goals, targets, relationship to actors, and geographic focus. Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) have political or ideological goals, their main enemy is usually a state, and their reach and membership can be international. On the other hand, the criminal organizations that will mainly be analyzed on this website often operate at the local level, do not have political objectives or follow an ideology, and their targets are the immediate populace or other criminal groups. Criminal organizations have victims, whereas VEOs have enemies.

This website will explore many areas in both CVE and CVP to gain an in-depth understanding of both fields and provide recommendations on best interventions to prevent violence in different contexts and settings. Topics will include gun violence, risk factors associated with joining violent groups, important frameworks to understand violence, the importance of rule of law in violence prevention, gender, cognitive approaches to reducing violent behavior, and multi-stakeholder interventions, among others.