PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico – Mexican authorities said at a forum that drug-trafficking gangs pay around 1.27 billion pesos (some $100 million) a month in bribes to municipal police officers nationwide
Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said that figure was calculated based on perceptions of municipal officers themselves and an analysis of a list of cops recruited by the cartels that was found during a police operation.
“Organized crime pays some 1.27 billion pesos a month to municipal police, because that’s the portion of the salary the government does not pay the officers so they can live with dignity,” the high-ranking official said Friday.
Speaking on the final day of a meeting of the Association of Mexican Municipalities, or Ammac, held in the western port city of Puerto Vallarta, Garcia Luna said that of the country’s 165,510 municipal officers nationwide, just over 20 percent earns less than 1,000 pesos ($79) a month, while 60.9 percent earns no more than 4,000 pesos ($317) monthly.
The secretary, who backs President’s Felipe Calderon’s proposal for a single police force per state, said municipal officers currently account for 38.73 percent of all police in the country, adding that rather than combat crime they merely comply with the guidelines of their jurisdictions.
Among those attending the gathering, titled “Toward a police model for the Mexico of the 21st century,” were public-safety experts from Spain and Chile and Mexican authorities from the different branches of government.
Attendees concurred that the country’s safety problems do not lie in the police forces themselves but rather in the law-enforcement personnel who make up those departments and who are in need of training and strict oversight.
“This situation makes it necessary to implement (a single police force) in each of the 32 administrative divisions,” Garcia Luna said, adding that that proposal is not some stubborn idea on his part but rather something that is for the good of the country.
Nevertheless, no consensus was reached at the end of the forum on the idea of a single police command.
During the two-day Ammac meeting, the mayors argued for the need to maintain the local police forces as the foundation for combating crime, while state and federal authorities insisted that a single police force was the only solution.
The mayor of Mexico’s second city, Guadalajara, and vice president of Ammac’s west region, Aristoteles Sandoval, said the creation of a single police command per state will not solve the country’s public safety problems and said the problem is a lack of resources, infrastructure and weapons.
Nearly 30,000 people have died in incidents blamed on organized-crime groups, mainly drug traffickers, in Mexico since late 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police to nearly a dozen states in a bid to stem the violence and root-out corruption in local law-enforcement agencies.
State and local police in Mexico are poorly paid and are often confronted with the choice known here as “plomo o plata” (lead or silver): accept a bribe for looking the other way or get killed for refusing.
During Calderon’s tenure, a total of 915 municipal police, 698 state police and 463 federal agents have been killed at the hands of criminal gangs, according to Public Safety Secretariat figures.