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07/10/2010 | Mexico's Calderon urges consolidation of police forces

Dudley Althaus

President Felipe Calderon proposed to Mexico's Congress on Wednesday that the country's nearly 2,000 municipal police forces be consolidated with 32 state agencies that he believes will be better equipped to take on the country's rampaging gangsters.


"We must have coordinated police forces, capable of guaranteeing Mexican's security," Calderon said at a ceremony honoring federal police officers. "It's time cities count on trustworthy police at all levels of government to protect the lives, liberty, property and rights of all."

Calderon's plan has the backing of Mexico's governors and much of Congress but is, not surprisingly, opposed by the majority of Mexico's mayors. The mayors argue that putting the country's public security in the governors' hands will further weaken the country's federal system, which has slowly recovered from the one party rule that reigned in Mexico for most of the past century.

Closing ranks

"We understand the situation of the country in regard to public security and we also understand the need to close ranks in the fight against criminal scourge we suffer," Azucena Olivarez Villagomez, mayor of the huge Mexico City suburb of Naucalpan and president of Mexico's Association of Municipalities, told Calderon during hearings in August. "Nonetheless we think that the municipal governments are obligated to actively take part in the eradication of crime."

Calderon has relied heavily on federal police, army troops and marines in his crackdown on Mexico's powerful and well-financed drug trafficking gangs. Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in nearly four years of violence the campaign unleashed.

But more than 90 percent of crimes in Mexico fall under local and state jurisdiction. And nine out of 10 of the country's 430,000 public security officers are in state and local forces.

Poorly trained, equipped

The majority of municipal officers are woefully trained, paid and equipped. Some 400 of Mexico's more than 2,400 municipalities have no police force at all, and 90 percent of those that do employ fewer than 100 officers, Calderon said.

With most local officers earning less than $300 a month, corruption is rampant. Active and former municipal officers long have filled the ranks of criminal gangs, either as gunmen or informants.

"They are the most vulnerable, the easiest to locate, the most co-optable," Calderon said, "the most subjected to the intimidation and, of course, the vengeance of the criminals who act with impunity in many parts of the country."

State police have often proved no better, with corruption endemic among many detective squads.

But the governor of Nuevo Leon, the state bordering south Texas that includes Monterrey, already has started efforts to meld local forces into a unified state command. A similar effort started last February in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit was abandoned last month as a failure.

Congress is expected to take up Calderon's proposal in this fall's session. The president of Mexico's senate, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, has expressed support for the plan, saying "we will have to approve it."

Like Calderon, Beltrones points out that local police forces have proved both unable and often unwilling to take on better armed and organized criminals.

"I see state governors very worried and mayors terrified because they don't have enough force to confront them," said Beltrones. "It's very difficult to ask a municipal officer not to be afraid."

Houston Chronicle (Estados Unidos)


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