A Doctor Turned Mayor Solves A Murder Mystery In Colombia
To improve global health, you can track sneezes. Or you can track bullets.
That’s what Rodrigo Guerrero did after he became mayor of Cali, Colombia, in 1992, an era when the South American nation led the world in intentional homicides (93 per 100,000 people).
Not only did he bring down the murder rate, but now he is being rewarded for his efforts. Monday, Guerrero became the first winner of the Roux Prize, a $100,000 award given by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington to someone who used evidence to have an impact on health.
Guerrero had no idea that guns would become a defining issue. “I wasn’t really interested in violence,” says the Harvard-trained physician, now 76, who had previously worked as an epidemiologist and president of the city’s university.
That’s not to say he was oblivious. Homicides were on his radar. But his priority as a new mayor was to improve public health.
"Once we obtained and cross-checked records, we saw that homicides were the No. 1 one cause of death, well beyond chronic and contagious diseases," Guerrero says. In Cali, the nation’s third-largest metropolis, the medical examiner recorded about five murders a day, and the homicide rate was five times greater than a decade ago.
Taking a lesson from his Harvard training, Guerrero led an unbiased, clinical examination of the killings.
He mimicked what doctors do when confronted with a disease outbreak. Violence often spreads like the flu in urban areas, and the key is to find the source.
Photo: As the mayor of Cali, Colombia, epidemiologist Rodrigo Guerrero (left) meets with the police once a week to review murder statistics. (Courtesy of Prensa Alcaldía de Calí)
I would, however, point out that the “stop-and-frisk searches” the article mentions were a) not completely racially motivated, as we were all rather brown to begin with, and yet b) spectacularly misused by police officers trying to make a buck.
So I’m sorry NPR, I really do love your blog, but that little bit there, subtly implying New Yorkers ’ reaction to stop-and-frisk is anything less than justified..that was a weak, unfortunate connection to make in an otherwise nice write up of what happened in my home town. Thanks for trying, but careful with your implications.