Political News

Mexican president submits police reform bill

Posted December 2, 2014

— Mexico's most corruption-plagued municipal police forces would be replaced by state police within two years under a bill President Enrique Pena Nieto has submitted to Congress.

Municipal police in the states of Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Jalisco and Michoacan would be placed under state control quickly, because "these are the states most urgently in need of attention," according to the bill submitted late Monday.

In September, a drug cartel-infiltrated municipal police force in the Guerrero state city of Iguala detained 43 students and turned them over to the gang, which reportedly killed them. The city's mayor and many of his police officers have been arrested. In the northern border state of Tamaulipas, many municipal police forces have already been effectively dissolved, because they were unable to face up to warring drug cartels or had been coopted by them.

The Mexican community in the U.S. staged protests Monday over the deaths of the 43 students. Demonstrators hung posters showing photos of the students along the Mexican consulate in Raleigh, for example, directing anger at both drug gangs and the Mexican government.

"People are pretty sick and tired of the situation that people could disappear that way," Consul General Javier Diaz said Tuesday. "The Mexican government has considered it a wake-up call."

Under the reform plan, civilian vigilantes in Michoacan were invited to join a state rural police force that has taken over security duties in many towns in the state's hot lands region. The rest of Mexico's 31 states would have presumably more time to implement the reforms.

However, analysts and experts warned that state police are not always more trustworthy than city or town cops.

According to a report by the Common Cause civic group, more state police (20,521) have failed background or vetting tests than municipal police (18,177) in recent years.

Analyst Alejandro Hope said that state police forces "with a few exceptions, are deformed institutions, deeply vulnerable to corruption and intimidation." In a column in the El Universal newspaper, Hope wrote that most state forces are relatively small, and only five have internal affairs offices to investigate misconduct by their officers.

The plan also will be expensive.

The state with the most effective record in creating a new statewide police force, the northern border state of Nuevo Leon, had to recruit out of state to find clean, qualified, willing candidates, and pay them well, at more than $1,000 per month. The state even provided housing in special, secure housing developments.

Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina noted he had to raise taxes to fund his security reforms, something that can be done in a relatively wealthy industrial state like Nuevo Leon, but would be hard in some poorer, southern states.

"It requires a financial capacity that most state governments don't have," said analyst Mentor Tijerina, in a column in the Reforma newspaper.

The proposal would allow states to absorb or re-hire some municipal officers, but Tijerina said, "It is more effective to start from zero, than patch together" existing forces.

The proposal submitted to the Senate by President Enrique Pena Nieto must be approved by both houses of Congress and a majority of state legislatures.

It also would allow the Interior Department and the attorney general to temporarily take over corrupt municipal governments infiltrated by gangs, with Senate approval. Special elections would be called quickly to replace local officials.

The bill painted a sad picture of most of Mexico's more than 1,800 municipal police forces. While some of the country's largest cities have relatively large, modern police forces, many small municipalities — about 600 — have no local police at all.

"In several cases, municipal police have been corrupted or infiltrated by criminal groups," according to bill, which noted that only 39.2 percent of Mexican expressed confidence in local police.

Almost two-thirds of Mexico's municipal police forces — 1,110 — have an average of only a dozen officers.

Almost 12 percent of municipal officers in Mexico have only a grade-school education; another 3 percent didn't graduate even grade school. The majority have only a middle-school education.

About 40 percent of local officers make less than 4,600 pesos ($325) per month.


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