Pubdate: Wed, 19 Nov 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Richard Marosi, Reporting from Tijuana

Mexico Under Siege


Mexican Federal Agents and Army Troops Are Dispatched in a Bid to Rid
the Tijuana Police Department of Cops Suspected of Having Links to
Drug Traffickers.

Mexican federal agents and army troops fanned out across this besieged
border city Tuesday to replace 500 police officers, the latest move by
the government to purge the troubled force of corrupt and incompetent

Last week, 21 officers, including two deputy chiefs, were detained on
suspicion of having ties to drug traffickers and flown to Mexico City
for questioning by Mexico's anti-organized-crime unit.

The moves come as authorities struggle to control a brutal war among
rival traffickers that has killed more than 300 people in Tijuana
since late September and left residents wary of large swaths of the

Despite past purges, the 2,200-member police department is still
viewed by many as an arm of the drug cartels.

Officers have been accused of working as lookouts, informants, hit men
or bodyguards for drug smugglers, and scores of them have been killed
over the years.

The 500 officers who were replaced will be sent to a police academy
for training and background checks and could return in a few months,
authorities said.

Their removal appears to be aimed at weakening Teodoro Garcia
Simental, known as El Teo, a suspected crime boss who is believed to
control the police in the city's east.

Federal agents and troops, supported by Baja California state police,
will patrol four neighborhoods considered Garcia's strongholds,
including La Mesa and Cerro Colorado.

Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos hailed the replacements as part of his
long-term efforts to reform the unruly department. Earlier this year,
100 officers suspected of corruption were fired.

Prosecutors also said Tuesday that a top police official who was
Mexico's main liaison with Interpol was under house arrest as part of
an investigation into leaks to drug cartels.

Interpol said officials in Ricardo Gutierrez Vargas' position would
have access to information on suspects, the Associated Press reported.

Among the 21 officers detained in Tijuana last week was a veteran
policeman well known in U.S. law enforcement circles. Javier Cardenas,
the Mexican liaison to U.S. federal and local agencies, was highly
regarded for capturing fugitives and suspects here and turning them
over to U.S. authorities.

He was taken into custody by a convoy of soldiers that descended on
the downtown police headquarters.