There Will Be No More City Police

Will anybody really miss them?
BY: JAMES BELL

Baja California Sur, and in fact, the entire country, is eliminating all municipal police forces. But this doesn’t mean the police will all lose their jobs. Most officers will transition into a single command under the authority of the state authorities force in a new, national security policy called mando unico, or unified police command. The transformative changes are now happening in our state and around the country as part of a major, national law enforcement reform. 

 This  radical restructuring is the federal government’s effort to ensure more professional control over weak, often poorly funded, and usually ineffective local law enforcement agencies that in many cases are susceptible to organized crime, criminal gangs, or  local officials abusing their power. According to one high-ranking member of Congress, (translated from Spanish) “Many municipal police forces have been infiltrated by criminal groups and, therefore, lack credibility or trust to carry out their functions to combat ordinary crimes that affect people the most.” In fact, INEGI, (the national statistics agency), reports that of all the security agencies in the nation, municipal police are the least trusted.

To qualify for the new unified command, municipal cops must  first go through a rigorous vetting process that includes taking the dreaded confidence exam, otherwise known as the lie detector test, and the failure rates are high. Some of the reasons for failure may include substance abuse or behavioral problems, past acts of thievery, and misplaced loyalties.

The new arrangement means that city authorities must forfeit their power to police their own turf so of course most of them are not happy about this.  Their authority is relinquished to state authorities, and to a degree, to the federal government which, truth be told, are not squeaky clean either.

The disappearance—and most assume, massacre—in 2014, of 43 protestors/students/bus hijackers/kidnappers, presumably by municipal authorities in a poor town on the mainland, intensified the country´s push to accelerate this rather radical measure to combat crimes and  impunity that have spiraled out of control over the last decade.  Crime bosses, who often wield de facto control over many municipal authorities and are concerned about losing their tenacious grip on them, have been, unsurprisingly, the strongest opponents of the shift of power to a unified police command. Of course, it is reasonable to assume that organized crime leaders, with their loads of cash on hand, will always try to get their hooks into state or federal security agencies, but at least it will be more difficult.

State governors will now hold power over local and state law enforcement, and the federal government will have the authority to rush into situations where criminal infiltration or the abuse of power is suspected.  In 2010, former president Felipe Calderon (of the PAN party) attempted to institute security reforms, but his initiatives were met with stiff opposition from rival parties and many of the country´s 2,400 mayors. Current president Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI party), with a lot of issues on his plate, including international pressure to reign in violence, also took up the pressing task, and has done better, already succeeding in incorporating security reforms in many states.

 While most states have already made the transition to the mando unico system, our state of Baja California Sur (BCS) is the last to get on board. Even so, our new governor, Carlos Mendoza, has stated his support for the new security policy. And why wouldn’t the governor be up for this, have you ever seen a politician who wanted to back away from another helping of power? He has signed an agreement with the five municipal mayors in the state to go along with it.

 Once the new security system is established, mando unico is expected to streamline participation among police forces that in the past were hampered by separate powers of jurisdiction among municipal, state, and federal agencies. The state police force in BCS, which used to number 800 employees, will see its ranks swell considerably. It is also expected to become more effective at combating ordinary crimes like property thefts. (Let´s keep our fingers crossed.)

Wages for new police officers will be raised substantially and the federal government will continue to increase what it pitches in for public security. The new police force will also be better trained and better equipped to handle complex criminal investigations.

Despite the enormous challenges facing the nation´s local, state, and federal governments, many global security experts believe México is making real progress in areas of institution-building. Recent reforms of the judicial system, combined with a renovated and newly empowered police force, may help reduce serious crime and improve the quality of life for many. If the Mexican government succeeds in creating a stronger legal system and a robust and more honest police force that ensures greater transparency, much less impunity, and broader citizen participation, all things are possible.