Responding to ever-growing urban insecurity, the Municipality of Lima has introduced ‘panic buttons’ across the central district of the Peruvian capital. Tagged on Google Maps, anyone can locate the 15 alert points which directly notify Lima’s Serenazgo brigades – security personnel hired by the municipality to patrol the streets,  affiliated with the police – of emergencies or crimes taking place. The panic buttons have been strategically placed on busy streets and intersections that experience the most crime.

Attached to street lights or telephone poles, the panic buttons automatically connect to a call center  when pressed, from where Serenos (Serenazgo officers) can be contacted or dispatched to respond to street crime and offenses. “Crime is a constant problem in Lima and most other parts of Peru. Street crime is prevalent in most urban areas, especially in Lima. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, smash-and-grab robberies, the theft of items from unoccupied vehicles, and the theft of vehicle parts (mirrors, lights, etc.) are common crimes. Electronics (especially cameras, laptops, GPSs, smart phones, I-Pods, etc.) rank high on the list of items that criminals target,” reads OSAC’s 2016 Peru Crime and Safety, which also rates the situation in the country as ‘critical.’

Lima Serenazgo panic button response team monitors security cameras.

Lima’s Serenazgo panic button response team monitors security cameras.

Meanwhile, police response is notoriously slow in Peru, and the force will not initiate an investigation of any incident until a report is filed. “There is a police presence in all major cities and towns, but they are often unable to respond to calls for service, and they can be unable to proactively deter, investigate, or reduce crime,” continues the recent OSAC report. With this in mind, the new panic buttons seek to solve a uniquely Peruvian problem, though its application can easily be considered for cities across the world that face the same police inefficiency or corruption problems.

In March 2016, Lima introduced the first Serenazgo brigade allowed to carry weapons for self-defense, deploying 30 Serenos armed with non-lethal tear-gas guns. With the legal right to make arrests, the Serenazgo force are tasked with rapid response to panic button calls effectively – a task made much easier given the known and static locations of the new communication devices. Nonetheless, those using the panic buttons are asked to give as many details about the crime or incident as possible so the appropriate response is deployed.

Of course, the potential for misuse of this kind of system is high, but the city has installed cameras to monitor each of the 15 panic buttons in order to avert prankers. “They weren’t created for fun,” warned Abdul Miranda, manager of Citizen Security at the Municipality of Lima. “The cameras move automatically to view the person pressing the button, so it’ll be very easy to detect jokers.” These cameras are monitored by the Serenazgo call center operators so that crimes and street activity can be monitored in real time.