Pubdate: Wed, 6 Feb 2008
Source: USA Today (US)
Page: 10A
Copyright: 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Authors: Chris Hawley and Sergio Solache, USA TODAY
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


Effort Part of Big Anti-Drug Campaign

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's federal government and army are intervening 
in local police forces to purge their ranks of corrupt officers as 
part of President Felipe Calderon's broad crackdown on drug trafficking.

Similar initiatives to clean up Mexico's police have failed in the 
past, although Calderon has earned strong praise from the U.S. 
government for the effectiveness of his year-long campaign against 
the country's powerful and well-armed drug lords. President Bush 
called Calderon on Tuesday to congratulate him on his anti-drug 
efforts and pledge more U.S. help.

Federal agents have arrested at least 11 city and state police 
officers on drug charges during the past month. Army troops have also 
confiscated weapons from about 300 police along the Texas border who 
were under investigation for corruption. The intelligence chief of 
Mexico City's police department recently resigned after coming under 
investigation by the Mexican Justice Department.

"We are evaluating police commanders at all three levels of 
government (federal, state and local) to purge our police forces of 
bad elements and criminals who have infiltrated them," Mexican Public 
Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said during a meeting of federal 
law enforcement officials last month.

Calderon has used the army to arrest hundreds of drug suspects, 
including an alleged leader of the brutal Sinaloa Cartel and a 
suspected top hit man for the Arellano Felix gang of Tijuana. In 
October, the government seized an 11-ton shipment of cocaine, 
followed by a 26-ton seizure in November that Mexican authorities 
claimed was the world's biggest single cocaine bust.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has credited the Mexican crackdown 
with a reduction of cocaine supply in some U.S. cities.

Some analysts doubt the crackdown on local police will produce 
lasting results. After past crackdowns, many fired officers have been 
rehired in other districts because Mexico has no national blacklist 
for police, said Maureen Meyer, an analyst with the Washington Office 
on Latin America (WOLA). Others simply go to work full-time for the 
drug traffickers.

"Just seizing their arms or purging the whole place isn't enough to 
really ensure that you're going to come up with a good, well-trained 
police force after the fact," Meyer said. She recommends better 
salaries and training as well as tougher educational requirements for 
potential recruits.

Since 1982, Mexican presidents have reorganized the federal law 
enforcement system five times and created at least four elite forces 
in an attempt to form new units that are free of corruption, 
according to a November report by WOLA.

However, new police forces have often succumbed to the influence of 
Mexico's deep-pocketed drug traffickers. In perhaps the most 
notorious case, agents from the U.S.-trained Special Airborne Force 
Groups deserted in the late 1990s and formed the Zetas, an elite 
group of hit men for the Gulf cartel.

Local police have also come under scrutiny before. In the 1990s, the 
Mexico City suburb of Nezahualcoyotl fired 318 officers, nearly its 
entire force. And the governor of Mexico State fired his police 
superintendent after two policemen tried to carjack the son of 
then-president Ernesto Zedillo.

The Calderon administration has taken the unprecedented step of 
temporarily disarming entire police forces. In January 2007, the army 
confiscated the guns of 2,300 Tijuana police while detectives checked 
to see whether any had been used in crimes. Most were returned within weeks.

Meanwhile, the United States has pledged millions of dollars for 
police training as part of a proposed $1.4 billion anti-drug aid 
package for Mexico.

Not all of Mexico's 317,000 local and state police are getting rich 
off drug trafficking. Some simply look the other way out of fear, 
said Rep. Juan Francisco Rivera Bedoya, chairman of the public safety 
committee in the lower house of Congress. "The gangs threaten to kill 
their children and wives if they don't cooperate," he said. "Many 
decide to just quit."

Another obstacle to cleaning up police forces is officers' low pay, 
which makes them susceptible to kickbacks from drug smugglers moving 
their cargo through town, said Adalberto Santana, a historian at the 
National Autonomous University of Mexico and author of a book about 
drug smuggling.

In Mexico City, a beat police officer is paid $700 a month, the city 
government says. That compares with a $900 per month salary for a 
payroll clerk in the city government, for example. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake