Drug-torn Mexico favors scrapping municipal police

By DANICA COTO, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 5:24 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's president is urging approval of a plan to replace local police departments with state forces so the government can better fight unrelenting drug violence that has claimed nearly 23,000 lives.

Part of the goal is to root out corruption by replacing generally low-paid, poorly educated local police, who are seen as more susceptible to bribery and intimidation by the powerful cartels.

It also aims to streamline operations and improve communication between police, President Felipe Calderon told a public safety commission Thursday before it approved the plan at the end of a three-hour session.

"We want a safe Mexico in which there is no room for the fear, violence and impunity that we suffer today," Calderon said.

Pending a cost analysis, Calderon intends to present it to Congress when it resumes session in September.

Mexico's Public Safety secretary first floated the idea last year, but it received a lukewarm response because some officials worried that it would be hard to police many of Mexico's 2,439 municipalities if local departments were eliminated. Only 12 of Mexico's 31 states even have their own police forces.

Some of the officials who voiced those concerns have since stepped down or been voted out of office. It's still unclear how it will fare in Congress.

So far, the military and federal police have led the war against drug cartels launched shortly after Calderon took office in December 2006.

Yet some states have already moved to consolidate municipal forces into regional departments - such as Morelos, which has seen dozens of killings as gangs battle for control of a cartel once led by Arturo Beltran Leyva.

The government is also proposing to create a national crime database that would include information on kidnappings, stolen cars and prisoners. A separate database would contain photos of all police officers, their fingerprints and other identifying details.

A recent high-profile campaign to fight extortion and kidnapping by compiling a registry of cell phone users around the country ended up going awry, however, after the users' personal data turned up for sale on two websites.

Prosecutors are investigating, Interior Department spokesman Luis Estrada said Thursday.

The mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's deadliest city with 2,601 drug-related killings reported last year, backed Calderon's proposal and said municipal police are often easy prey in small, close-knit towns.

"The more (a police officer) knows, the more he becomes known," Jose Reyes Ferriz said. "All this makes him more vulnerable to criminals."

Nuevo Leon Mayor Rodrigo Medina urged the government to create more jobs and education opportunities if it wants to see a drop in crime.

"There is no public safety model that will resolve the situation we face right now," he said, a day after two federal police officers were killed and one wounded in the nearby town of Garcia.

Three alleged members of the Zetas cartel have been charged in the attack, said Luis Cardenas Palomino, regional security chief of the federal police.

Nuevo Leon state prosecutors said the officers had stopped a car for a search when gunmen in several SUVs pulled up and opened fire.

Hours later, police found the bodies of a local traffic officer and a trainee inside a car in the nearby town of Santiago.

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