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Technology & Innovation

Use Math to Combat Ultra-Violent Drug Cartels

Efforts to take out Cartel bosses have done little to mitigate drug-related violence. New algorithms are being used to pinpoint the vital players in these dangerous organizations.

What’s the Latest Development?

Violence caused by the international drug trade has continued to increase year after year despite the police effort to crack down on cartels and cartel leaders. Earlier this month, the death of the leader of one of Mexico’s most violent Cartels, Los Zetas, was considered a victory in the war on drugs. Outside experts are now saying that this top-down approach may be helpful with slowing the drug trade in the short run, but it ultimately results in more violence. These experts propose using statistical network analysis to take out the most vital parts of these organizations rather than the cartel bosses.

What’s the Big Idea?

What analysts are finding is that the deaths of cartel bosses lead to increased violence, after smaller cartels try to assert their power with more killing. “Prior to the crackdowns that began in 2006, drug-related crimes in Mexico killed about 3700 people per year. In 2011, that number was more than 16,000.” By developing network-analysis algorithms, experts are able to find vital nodes in the network of a drug cartel. Usually these nodes are “betweeners” or “people who are not well-connected, but serve as a bridge linking two groups” of legal and illegal counterparts. The hope is that ultimately the removal of these key players can reduce both violence and drug traffic throughout the Americas.

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