World's Most Violent City - Neighborhood Security

By Carlton Purvis, Published Mar 10, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Juarez, known for being one of the deadliest cities in the world saw murder rates as high as 10 a day in 2010. More than 450 people were killed last year. [link no longer available] The city is known for both it’s corrupt police and cartel activity. It’s a city where resident say rule of law is ineffective and whoever holds the most firepower is in control on any given day.

However, a growing body of research shows “that when states are unable or unwilling to provide security, local self-defense groups may be an imperfect but effective alternative. These forces are much cheaper and faster to assemble than formal police and army units, and they can quickly muster large numbers of men to secure isolated communities,” Foreign Affairs reported last year. Without government support neighborhoods have come up with DIY security.

We talked to a contact in Juarez about what neighborhood security looks now in Juarez and how citizens are securing their homes.

Alarms and Access Control

“Rodolfo” lives in his family home in Juarez, but works in another city. His house has been burglarized three times. The first time was during the day when no one was home. The other three times, armed men led his mother outside while other men rummaged through the house.

Most people who can afford security alarms, have them and the people who can’t, like Roldolfo, triple lock doors with padlocks (inside and outside doors), bar windows and buy big dogs. At one point, he says he had six locks throughout the house and “you need three keys to get access,” he said. His alarm system is an 80-pound pit bull.

“I have my bully as well who works as protection unless someone wants to enter without knowing him,” he said referring to the dog. He said in Juarez the popular breeds are pit bulls, rottweilers and German shepherds.


Cameras are mainly used by the wealthy and by businesses. But the majority of the cameras used in neighborhoods are cheap dummy cameras, a  trend that is losing steam.

“Now even working cameras aren’t really that effective,” he said. “The information can be lost in different ways, if you know what I mean, and people got to the point where they wanted to know less about what was going on [and removed cameras on their own or stopped checking footage].”

Blocking Off Streets

Many of the homes in his neighborhood have iron fences around them already or gates that could be locked, but  armed groups would use vehicles to pull down the gates. People reacted by blocking off access to neighborhoods by erecting their own access gates and checkpoints on streets leading into neighborhoods. Ones that can afford security guards would have guards. Others have autodefensas.

Despite warnings from the municipal government about blocking roads, neighborhoods installed tube gates, iron fences and gate arms anyway, causing traffic to be rerouted to other parts of the city. At one point, he says, the city began removing the gates, but many of them still remain. Nine gates still surround his neighborhood. Only one allows access in or out and it’s manned 24/7 by a guard.

“The ones with less privilege will close the streets with barrels and containers full of cement to prevent armed groups from easy vehicular access,” he said. Some neighborhoods use cement to create speed bumps to reduce the speed that armed groups and police can move through the neighborhood.

Security Through Obscurity

Juarez is short on jobs now that many people and businesses have left, he says. The businesses that still operate run the risk of being extorted by gangs. He knew a guy who ran a store that sold pirated movies who was forced to pay gang members.

“The drug lords were asking for $900 a month from this guy. People can barely survive and then they get hit by this. But if he didn’t pay, they would likely burn his business down,” Roldofo said.

Many businesses in Juarez have removed their signage or altered their hours so that they don’t look open to the public and become subject to extortion from drug gangs. The businesses that aren’t hiding shy away from doing anything flashy that make it look like they are well off.


Some call them vigilantes, some call them needed security, but what’s clear is that they are taking the protection of their neighborhoods into their own hands. They’ve detained police, had shootouts with cartels and control checkpoints in their neighborhoods. Many news stories in the last year have noted the rise of autodefensas.


Citizens can own guns, but only law enforcement or military are legally allowed to carry. Even security guards are not authorized to be armed. However, both the autodefensas and gang members travel armed.

Gang associates he calls chacas are recognizable because they carry openly and often wear masks.

“You just have to turn your head and pretend not to watch anything,” he said.

Recruiting Gang Members

The economy and lack of jobs is just one of many problems leading to the condition of Juarez, but Roldolfo has specific experience with that part of the equation.

“A maquilero working for minimum wage getting approximately 35 (pesos) a week to survive for him and his family and then someone comes and offers you about 280 for doing nothing until you are needed. It's a good deal,” he said. “A lot of the guys in Juarez are deported from the U.S. and they are bald and tattooed and in Mexico it’s hard to get a job looking like that. The deported guys get hungry, and the rest is history.”

For a time, Roldolfo worked for an organization trying to get to these guys before the gangs did. If the deportees could speak English they would try to get them jobs a call centers for cell phone companies.

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