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Missing Mexican Police Chief Latest Blow to Law in Zetas Territory

The car where Balmori's brothers were found dead The car where Balmori's brothers were found dead

The police chief in Nuevo Laredo has gone missing while two of his brothers have been found dead, the third time in a seven-year period that a police chief in the Mexican border city has either disappeared or been killed.

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The Tamaulipas state Attorney General’s Office released a brief statement on February 19, which said that Roberto Alejandro Balmori Garza had been missing for "some days," and that they were investigating. Two of the police chief's brothers, Manuel and Jose Alberto, were found dead in a car on a highway outside the city on February 17.

Conflicting stories have emerged about how Balmori's disappearance and the death of his brothers are related. According to Milenio, Manuel, who worked for the federal Attorney General's Office, and Jose Alberto had been driving to Nuevo Laredo to investigate their brother's disappearance. However, according to Proceso, another theory has it that the three brothers were kidnapped together in Nuevo Laredo.

InSight Crime Analysis

Police in Nuevo Laredo are frequently intimidated by organized criminal groups. Balmori took office in Nuevo Laredo in February 2011, following the murder of another police chief, Manuel Farfan. Farfan was ambushed and shot dead, along with two bodyguards and his private secretary, after only a month on the job. In June 2005, Alejandro Dominguez was murdered just hours after officially taking up the post of police chief. In September 2012, three Tamaulipas state security officials, including the director of police strategy, were found dead in Nuevo Laredo.

These kinds of killings frequently involve criminal gangs who target uncooperative officers. Police may also be targeted if they are perceived as being too effective and threatening the operations of organized crime, or because the police agent is working for a rival criminal group.

Both the state of Tamaulias and the city of Nuevo Laredo are fiercely contested by Mexico's criminal groups. Tamaulipas has long been the primary battleground for the Zetas' war with the Gulf Cartel. Meanwhile, Nuevo Laredo has remained under the Zetas' control, but has also witnessed incursions by the Sinaloa Cartel. Conflict within the city deepened last year, after a rebellious faction of the Zetas announced it was forming an independent organization. Such developments have created an extremely volatile environment for Mexico's security forces.

Adding to the volatility is the lack of trust in Nuevo Laredo's police. The city has been without municipal and transit police forces since all municipal officers were taken off duty in June 2011, to undergo "confidence testing," due to concerns about the level of criminal infiltration in the force. They have been replaced by federal and state police, and members of the armed forces.

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