Mexico’s Federal Police, the principal civil security institution in the country, operates without a publicly available manual defining when and how its 40,000 officers can use deadly force.
In contrast to the Mexican Army and Navy (the two other federal forces that participate in public security and anti-crime operations), the Federal Police has not revealed what is the acceptable use of force for its officers. The military’s manual on the use of force was published in 2014. Among other rules, the manual establishes officers cannot shoot through walls or windows, or at moving vehicles.
But no such manual is publicly available for the Federal Police. The only public information is general guidelines on the use of force published in 2012 by the now-defunct Secretary of Public Security (SSP), which noted that a use of force manual should be created.
On May 22, Federal Police agents killed 42 people, in the bloodiest confrontation in the fight against organized crime in recent history.
According to witnesses and security officials, police officers — including those in helicopters — shot at the aggressors, who were hidden in two buildings. It is impossible to publicly verify if this type of action is permitted, because there is no such official document to consult.
The “Guidelines” for the Federal Police
In 2012, the SSP (which was later replaced by the office of the National Security Commissioner) published the “General Guidelines for the Regulation of the Public Use of Force by Police Institutions and Other Organs of the SSP.”
The document addresses the overall framework for the use of force, including the five levels of force (the Army only recognizes four levels).
The last of these levels is the lethal use of force, which according to the document can be used “when the other means are rendered inefficient.” The document states lethal force should be used in “moderation” while looking for ways to “keep injuries or damage to a minimum.”
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But these general guidelines offer no details on how firearms should be used, or the circumstances under which a suspect can be attacked. The guidelines also fail to define what constitutes the excessive use of lethal force, or if police agents are permitted to shoot at vehicles or residences.
“The police institutions in charge of […] preserving the rule of law will specify the rules for the use of force in the manuals that contain the protocols for action,” chapter three of the guideline reads.
A citizen has asked the Federal Police to hand over the manual on use of force via a transparency request, but the institution said that such a document did not exist and that only the 2012 guidelines were available for viewing.
The Military Manual
The military’s manual on use of force, which applies to Mexico’s Army, Navy, and Air Force, permits members of the military to use lethal force against potential aggressors even if they do not attack first. But there are some conditions.
The manual establishes that five basic requisites must be met in order to justify legitimate self defense: 1) the existence of an attempt at aggression; 2) the threat must be real and not hypothetical; 3) the attack must be either already happening or imminent; 4) rational analysis of possibilities for defense must be considered; 5) there must be no prior provocation on the part of the authorities.
The basic principles of the manual dictate that the use of force by authorities must correspond with the type of aggression they are receiving.
Members of the military must decide which of the four levels of force to use. The last of these levels is lethal force, which is only valid when “the aggressors or transgressors threaten the member of the armed forces or third parties with firearms, explosives, or vehicles.” That is, members of the military do not have to wait for the first shot in order to open fire.
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But the manual establishes some rules that must be followed for the use of firearms, including the prohibition of shooting at walls, windows, or barriers without having a clear idea of who is on the other side.
Shooting at moving vehicles is also prohibited – and in fact constitutes excessive use of lethal force – except when there is a risk that someone will be hurt if no shots are fired.
Unknown Number of Dead from Police Actions
The most recent official data from the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy, released via transparency requests, reveal that from December 2006 to 2014, 4,074 alleged aggressors were killed during confrontations with the armed forces. This means an average of two civilians was killed every day from clashes with the military during that eight-year period.
If one considers that during that same period approximately 200 elements of the armed forces died in anti-drug trafficking operations, the difference between these two figures is significant. For every member of the military who died, there were 20 alleged gunmen killed.
Unlike the armed forces, the Federal Police have refused to reveal the number of civilian who have died in recent years resulting from clashes with police. Citizens have asked the Federal Police to release the number of civilians killed in confrontations with police agents via numerous transparency requests. However, the Federal Police has responded by saying that they cannot give these statistics since “it is the authority of the Public Ministry to begin inquiries into homicides.”