Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The Lives of Policemen in Mexico
August 6th, 2010: 2,076 Policemen killed in drug war.
According to a report released today by Mexico’s cabinet level Federal Police Ministry, the SSP, organized crime and drug cartel attacks and executions have killed 2,076 policemen since President Calderon launched his offensive in December 2006.
Municipal policemen accounted for 915 deaths, followed by state policemen with 698 deaths and the federal police with 463 deaths. The total of 2,076 police deaths accounted for 7.3% of the figure of 28,228 total deaths attributed to organized crime from December 1, 2006 to July 29, 2010.
The SSP noted that Mexico has 427,354 registered police officers, of which only 38,886 are federal. The rest are state police (222,958) and municipal police (165,510).
Federal police officers are mostly PFP (federal preventive police) and are specialized in combating organized crime and drug cartels.
The police officers dedicated to investigating and prosecuting crimes in the country are the ministerial police at the federal and state level with 26,928 policemen and women for the whole country. They only constitute 6.3% of the total strength of all polices forces.
The remainder of the total strength of of all state and municipal police forces are "seguridad publica" (public security). They are tasked with basic law enforcement and deterrence and have no investigative functions.
Genaro Garcia Luna, the SSP cabinet minister, estimates that 40% of all police in the country have no effective role in law enforcement. They do not fight or deter crime nor do they protect their communities. These men and women are the most corrupted segment of police forces and many have links to organized crime. Some are active criminal participants.
The SSP added that 68,300 of the municipal police have only the most basic education,in other words they are semi-literate at best, and about two thirds of all policemen (state and municipal) in the country earn about 4,000 pesos a month (about $315)or less.
Garcia Luna recently stated that the minimum wage for a police officer to live in dignity is 10,000 pesos monthly (about $785.00).
August 11-12, 2010: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.
Last week was ominous for the federal and municipal police forces “fighting” crime, and maybe each other, in Ciudad Juarez.
On Wednesday, August 11, the decapitated body of a federal policeman was found outside of a Diario de Juarez newspaper warehouse. Attached to the body was a “narco” message with the now redundant warning that more federal police will be killed if they continue to cooperate with the Sinaloa Cartel.
On Thursday, August 12, possibly in retaliation for the death of the federal policeman, the decapitated and dismembered body of a 7 year veteran municipal police officer, who was known on the street as “el Diablo” (the devil) was found Thursday morning scattered on a soccer field. His head was guarding one of the goals.
Also found at the scene was another “narco” message that read: Por Apoyar a la Linea Marrano. (for backing the Juarez Cartel, pig).
The control of the Ciudad Juarez plaza has been in dispute and is being fought over by the rival cartels of the Sinaloa Cartel (la Gente Nueva) and the Juarez Cartel (la Linea).
And now the federal police and the state and municipal police force are increasingly seen as proxies for both opposing cartels in their war for control of Juarez.
The federal police are accused of cooperating with the Sinaloa cartel in efforts to destroy the Juarez Cartel.
The state and municipal police forces are accused of favoring the hometown Juarez Cartel.
What is certain is that la Linea has suffered much more damage from federal police forces in Juarez than the Sinaloa cartel cells. Some members of the federal police forces have also been accused of criminally abusing the civilian population of Juarez.
The killing of both policemen was also a fitting introduction for the bloodbath that occurred in Juarez this past weekend.
From Friday morrning to Sunday night 51 people were murdered in Juarez, 11 of the victims dying in home invasions of two parties. The body count does not include victims abducted and murdered whose bodies end up in clandestine desert graves.
Fifteen more murders occurred in Juarez on Monday.
Two more municipal policemen were executed half a block from their subs-station Tuesday morning.
There is no point any longer in going over the details. The level of violence is incomprehensible. Maybe this is the reason Ciudad Juarez received very little coverage in the mainstream Mexican media.
Mexico, and the world, is tired of Juarez.
The presence of thousands of Federal Preventive Police (PFP), Juarez municipal police and state of Chihuahua CIPOL agents is largely irrelevant in preventing the waves of violence that have washed over Juarez for so long now.
They, like the population of the city, are also overwhelmed by the crime and murders that have become a mainstay of life in Juarez since way before the Calderon administration took office.
Much of the law enforcement efforts at policing seem to be reactive only, responding to murder scenes as they guard the forensics experts, who in Juarez are reported to be excellent.
They also make excellent targets for the countless ambushes by drug cartel gunmen, most of which are not reported in the press. Only those causing deaths and injuries make the headlines. In one ambush in April, six federal police officers and one municipal policewoman were killed in a single ambush.
The federal and municipal police were patrolling together at that time under a directive that both forces observe each other in order to deter corrupt practices.
There has been solid police work based on street intelligence and the forensic evidence gathered that has resulted in the arrests of many mid-level lieutenants and triggermen of “La Linea” but, like insurgencies that we see elsewhere in the world (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan), those arrested are quickly replaced with equally deadly gang members.
The tour of duty for federal police officers in Juarez follows the experience of U.S. combat veterans from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. They are under the threat of fire from the first to the last days of their tours.
Needless to say, morale is low among the federal police.
The stress has already resulted in the mutiny of one detachment of federal policemen who accused their commander of having links to and participating in crimes with members of the Sinaloa Cartel.
July 30th, 2010: Ciudad Valles, San Luis Potosi.
Ciudad Valle sits in the doorway to La Huasteca, a rugged mountainous jungle area situated where the states of San Luis Potosi, Veracruz and Tamaulipas meet. Recently viewed as an area full or ecotourism potential, the area has now been victimized by the violence and insecurity spreading south from Tanaulipas.
In an attack shocking even by Mexican drug war standards, unidentified gunmen traveling in a caravan of pickups and SUV’s invaded Ciudad Valles. Driving unimpeded through the city, they terrorized the population and killed 6 policemen, wounding 4 more.
They were all picked off like sitting ducks, unable to protect themselves or their city.
“There is no sense of duty in either the state or municipal police forces, they do not know how to defend themselves and that is why they are attacked so blatantly” says civic leader Irineo Martinez Lopez. “They have no conviction and this lack of a moral value is what causes this insecurity, what I’m saying is nothing new. This moral value should have been learned in the family”
“These officers are in the police force not because of a calling to be a policeman but because they had no income, no job, and this was the only work they could get”
Martinez Lopez stated that part of the problem is the lack of meaningful vocational training in high schools, which has been eliminated from the curriculum.
“The only purpose for this kind of policeman is to collect bribes and keep making money, security issues are of no concern.”
The men and women on the police force in Ciudad Valles have begun to leave the department. They are looking for safer employment.
July 28-29, 2010: Los Mochis, Sinaloa.
Los Mochis sits on the coastal plains of northern Sinaloa, not far from the Gulf of California. It is well within the borders of the area under the control of the Sinaloa cartel.
Something is happening in Sinaloa. The year of 2010 has seen a huge increase of violence and murders in what was already known as a violent state.
The police of Sinaloa have been a major target of this violence.
Throughout the night and early morning hours of July 28 and 29, between 20 and 30 pickups filled with heavily armed men carrying AK-47’s and Barrett .50 cal sniper rifles enter Los Mochis and parade throughout the streets of the city unimpeded for several hours during a hot July night and into the early morning hours.
The men, whose faces are covered with ski masks, are believed to be members of the Sinaloa Cartel and they are driving around in a show of force aimed at the police and civilians.
No shots are fired or people abducted, but that is hardly necessary. The intimidation is complete as Los Mochis is reminded of who holds real power.
The Mexican Army and the state and local police forces were conspicuous by their absence during the presence of the armed gunmen.
The police admit they are unable to cope with criminal gangs that act with impunity in the region.
It is an unwritten rule, according to a policeman speaking anonymously, that when the presence of a heavily armed criminal group is detected in Los Mochis it is best to hide in the Municipal Police installation.
The reasons are obvious, the lack of arms and training and the absence of effective strategies to deal with criminal groups who have turned the city into their center of operation.
“We do not know how to act, the criminals have much better weapons than ours, so to go meet them would be like signing our death certificate," said the policeman.
Put into context, if you are lucky and are patrolling in a 2 to 3 vehicle group, you are still going to have 2 to 4 policemen come up against a minimum of 8 to 10 heavily armed gunmen.
He said they are constantly under fire by the public but it is up to federal authorities to fight this type of criminal. “Those who should face the killers are the State Ministerial Police, The Federal Police and the soldiers but they won’t dare either.”
The situation in Los Mochis has also led to increased crime of all types, for even common criminals have been emboldened by the lack of effectiveness of the police forces
July 13, 2010: Navolato, Sinaloa
Navolato is a municipality of 140,000 inhabitants lying further south on the coastal plains of Sinaloa. It sits between the Gulf of California and the state capitol of Culiacan.
Navolato has a very dark side. It seems that the police in this municipality are being hunted for sport.
Already 60 policemen have been murdered in Sinaloa since the beginning of 2010.
Many of the victims have been abducted and hours later found executed.
In 2009 the total number of police officers murdered in Sinaloa was 57.
The vast majority of these killings are perpetrated by organized criminal gangs according to the Sinaloa Attorney General’s Office.
Navolato may be the hardest hit city in Mexico in terms of police murders as a percentage of the population. Already this year 16 police officers have been murdered in Navolato.
In all of 2009 there were 16 policemen killed in Navolato and in 2008 there were 8 officers murdered.
On Sunday night , July 11, Jose Luis Luna Corrales, the popular communications chief for the Navolato DSPM (municipal police department) was abducted by a group of 6 gunmen according to witnesses. His body, badly beaten and shot, was located the next morning.
The week before two other Navolato policemen were also abducted and murdered.
On Tuesday, July 13, 23 members of the Navolato police force turned in their resignations. The total number of resignations for this year is up to 70 officers.
From a high of 340 police officers last year, the Navolato police force has decreased to 143 officers.
Although the city has actively recruited for new officers since early in the year there has not been one single recruit.
“Fear is part of life here and that drives away recruits” said city councilman Juan Manuel Buatista, “The youth of the city measure the risks vs benefits and the risks are just too great.”
“How can you entice an educated young person to join the police force with a starting salary of 5,000 pesos($395) a month?”
The police officers still on the force say that they are alone in coping with the constant presence of armed criminal groups in the city. At night they no longer respond to requests for help or for reports of violence and shootings.
“Even though we travel in convoys and wear bullet-proof vests we rarely patrol during the day and never at night because of all the heavily armed gangs” said another patrolman who wished to remain anonymous.
One of the main disincentives to staying on the force is that the 400,000 peso life insurance policies for police officers have been cancelled. They are uninsurable because of the risk.
In Mexico one of the incentives for entering law enforcement is the fact that a life insurance payout will guarantee the surviving beneficiaries will be able to purchase a lot in a city or town and build a modest home and not be reduced to homeless poverty.