Forty municipal and transit police officers in Cadereyta, a city in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, were arrested on charges that they worked with drug traffickers, the State Investigations Agency, or AEI, said.
The officers were arrested Tuesday night after authorities took over the police headquarters in Cadereyta, located about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Monterrey, an AEI spokesman told Efe.
Army troops and Federal Police officers participated in the operation, the AEI spokesman said, adding that 25 municipal police officers and 15 transit police officers were detained.
The officers were taken to AEI headquarters and to the local bureau of the federal Attorney General’s Office, where they will be questioned.
The arrests left Cadereyta with no municipal police officers and only eight transit officers.
The Los Zetas drug cartel, which has been blamed for kidnappings, murders and other crimes, operates in Cadereyta, state officials and federal prosecutors allege.
Nuevo Leon and neighboring Tamaulipas state have been rocked by a wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers battling for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
The violence has intensified in the two border states since the appearance in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, in February 2010 of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca,” deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnappings, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans willing to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
A total of 15,270 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and more than 36,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country’s cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
The anti-drug operation, however, has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels’ ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking officials.