Urban Secrity Research at The Centre of Criminology

UNODC Guide to Urban Security


Strengthening Responses to Challenges of Crime, Corruption, Drugs and Terrorism 

A Guide for Development Practitioners




Crime, corruption, drugs and terrorism are threatening sustainable development and there is increased understanding of the extent to which security challenges such as serious and organised crime, drug trafficking, terrorism and corruption have become serious concerns for the development community.  There is a growing evidence basis of the deleterious impact that these threats can have in undermining the quality of governance and the rule of law, diverting justice and social welfare, restricting economic growth, and promoting violence and conflict. 

Organised crime and related corruption have been seen to reach up to the highest levels of government and the state, impacting stability, governance, development and the rule of law. Even in what are considered strong and prospering states, organised crime has a serious corrosive effect. Weaknesses in public and private structures can result in the diversion of resources away from critical infrastructure and governmental services, including the provision of health, education and social welfare. In a similar manner, violence has also been proven to have strong negative impacts on economic development by drastically reducing growth and producing long-lasting detrimental social impacts. 

Urbanisation and insecurity are intricately linked. More than 50% of the world’s population currently live in urban environments and the urbanisation rate has been rapid during the last century. Together with urbanisation, we are also seeing the phenomenon of the mega-city, a city which houses more than 10 million people. While mega-cities are a hub for economic and social activity, they exacerbate existing tensions because they introduce a tight socio-economic interdependency amongst often-diverse groups. They are destination points for extremists and criminals, and sanctuaries or battle spaces for insurgents and terrorists.  They are an engine for economic growth and a focus for national and international attention because they are the seat of government, the locus for diplomatic attention and foreign troops, or because they are where the media is based. The danger of these trends has been most dramatic in the least urbanised continents, Africa and Asia. The rate of infrastructure development and social services has failed to keep pace with the rapidly increasing population. Nearly one-seventh of the world’s population now lives in over-populated slums with little to no infrastructure or social services. As cities create wealth, inequality and societal tensions are increasing, because at the same time these cities are hosting an increasingly diverse group of poor migrants who feel marginalised and disenfranchised from the state.

Some cities are experiencing high levels of violence that are undermining the foundations of the economic and social development of the entire population.  In many mega-cities, areas of the city have deteriorated and have become impenetrable zones of insecurity, causing the populations to be trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty. This sometimes also leads to incubation of violent extremist ideologies. It is dangerous to neglect the potential of organised crime to overwhelm urban environments.

Who is conducting the research?

The project is led by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation’s South African Research Chair in Security and Justice, housed within UCT’s Centre of Criminology. The Security and Justice research Chair aims to strengthen and improve research and innovation of research, in South Africa in the field of security and justice, to build capacities required for research that will enhance understandings of African security and justice and to develop a network of scholars and practitioners. The project will also draw on the research of the Safety and Violence Initiative (SaVI), and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. SaVI is a network of researchers from a variety of disciplines across UCT, who focus on understanding and intervening in the promotion of safety and the reduction of violence in South Africa, Africa and beyond. Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, an international network of prominent law enforcement, governance and development practitioners who are dedicated to seeking new and innovative strategies and responses to organised crime in all its forms.

The principal consultants on the project are Professor Mark Shaw, the incumbent of the NRF Chair of Security and Justice and head of the Centre of Criminology and Prof Julie Berg, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town and a steering committee member of the Safety and Violence Initiative.  Professor Shaw and Prof Berg will recruit and oversee Senior Consultants to undertake the research and draft the case studies. These consultants will draw from the wide network of scholars and practitioners engaged with the University of Cape Town, and its global network of partner universities.  In addition, the 150 members of the Global Initiative Network of Experts will be drawn upon. The senior consultants will either be based in, or have extensive experience, in their allocated case study city.

Once a draft Practical Guide has been completed, it will be verified by a panel of 10 – 12 experts who will be regionally and geographically representative and have an array of expertise. Some of these expert’s include Professor Clifford Shearing, previous director of UCT’s Centre of Criminology and world-renowned criminologist, Prof Elrena Van Der Spuy, Head of Public Law at UCT and Tani Marilena Adams, Coordinator of the International Working Group on Chronic Violence and Human Development. The development of the guide and the expert verification process will serve to provide an opportunity for the development of a network among practitioners in these areas.


The objective of the project is to develop a guide that will enable both national and international actors to understand the link between the development situation within a particular locality with issues in crime, corruption, drugs and terrorism, and to support the design of innovative integrated solutions to meet these challenges. The project consists of four phases, these phases are establishing a conceptual framework, building an evidence basis and developing a practical guidance tool and assuring quality and applicability.

1.     Establishing a conceptual framework

One of the challenges that has consistently dogged efforts to address the interlinked problems of crime, corruption and terrorism is that of agreeing on acceptable and functional definitions of what activities should be included in that scope.  The term ‘organized crime’ has never been given satisfactory definition or description.

2.     Case Studies of Insecurity

In order to develop an evidence basis that can guide the identification and planning of interventions, nine case studies will be undertaken.  Each case study will serve to identify relevant security issues, identify relevant development issues and to identify existing responses to both security and development issues. These case studies are focused on individual cities and megacities and their specific insecurity issues and have been selected to be geographically representative. The nine case studies are: Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Sao Paolo, Karachi, Manila and Jakarta. Given the trend towards urbanization and the overwhelming challenge of urban crime and insecurity, all case studies will address chronic insecurity challenges in the context of democratic national and local government.

3.      A Practical Guide

The Practical Guide will draw from an evidence basis, describe the challenges presented by crime, corruption and terrorism in a way that utilises a development lexicon and clearly highlight the interdependence between crime, violence and the achievement of development goals. It will also set out to contain a methodology or methodologies which can assist development actors to identify and/or classify the salient crime/drugs/terrorism issues and their main effects on development outcomes. The guide will also provide recommendations based on lessons learned and good practice on suitable steps to be taken in planning and/or coordinating interventions, and facilitating the design of balanced, innovative integrated approaches to the challenge.

The Guide will serve two purposes: Firstly it will catalyse policy debate around these issues in jurisdictions that require sensitization to the issues, or are only beginning to become cognisant of the issues. Secondly, the guide will serve as a practical tool for jurisdictions seeking to develop strategic responses to the challenges of crime, corruption or terrorism within their communities. 

The target audience of the guide is primarily national and local policymakers and practitioners who are grappling with the challenges of achieving sustainable development in contexts where crime, corruption and terrorism are of concern. 

The guide will also provide a basis for the exchange of policies and best practices in approaching specific security-development issues. The guide will also be useful to police and judicial officials, staff of development agencies, analysts and researchers, journalists, and students.

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