Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua - The army will begin handing over some security tasks in Ciudad Juarez, the murder capital of Mexico, to the Federal Police as of Thursday, but it will continue to be responsible for patrols and controlling access to the city, the border and the airport, among other duties, the government said.
Some 4,500 Federal Police officers will have primary responsibility for security in Ciudad Juarez, a border city in Chihuahua state, backed by 2,800 municipal police officers and 200 state police, the Government Secretariat said.
Responsibility for security in the border city will be handed over “gradually to state and municipal (police), with the goal in the medium term of fully restoring institutional normality in Ciudad Juarez,” the secretariat said.
The army, however, will continue providing “security at the main access points to the city, at international border crossings and at air and land transportation terminals,” the secretariat said.
Soldiers, moreover, will provide support to municipal, state and Federal Police officers “in emergencies, conducting operations and jointly assisting in information and intelligence tasks, and in fighting organized crime, among others,” the secretariat said.
Ciudad Juarez, located across the border from El Paso, Texas, has been plagued by drug-related violence for years.
The murder rate took off in the border city of 1.5 million people in 2007, when more than 800 people were killed, then it more than doubled to 1,623 in 2008, according to press tallies, with the number of killings soaring to 2,635 last year.
Ciudad Juarez, with 191 homicides per 100,000 residents, was the most violent city in the world in 2009, registering a higher murder rate than San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Caracas and Guatemala, two Mexican non-governmental organizations said in a recent report.
The death toll for this year currently stands at more than 600, including 16 people massacred on Jan. 31 while attending a birthday party in the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood.
Army troops and Federal Police were deployed in the border city partly because of the high level of corruption among municipal officers and their inability to deal with the drug cartels operating in the area.
President Felipe Calderon said during one of his recent visits to Juarez that he would not withdraw the army from the border city despite complaints about abuses committed by soldiers.
“Abuse is unacceptable, but so is reviling the soldiers who are risking their lives for other citizens,” Calderon said on Feb. 11.
Shootouts among rival drug cartels and the security forces’ operations against the gangs have claimed nearly 19,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when Calderon took office.
Vowing to crush the cartels, Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 Federal Police officers in the country’s most crime-plagued areas, yet the pace of drug-related killings has only accelerated, surging from 2,700 in 2007 to 7,724 last year.
The 2010 death toll, according to a tally kept by the Mexico City daily El Universal, is nearly 2,500.