Report Describes Police, Judicial Dysfunction Across Mexico’s States

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A new report from a Mexican think tank details the nation’s security challenges at the sub-federal level, painting a vivid and varied picture of the nation’s 32 states.

The report from Mexico Evalua is titled ‘Security and Criminal Justice in the States,’ and it was released earlier this week. Over the course of its 128 pages, it offers a far more detailed picture of crime in Mexico than is possible from the simple murder tally often used as the baseline for public security, and describes the states’ inability to fashion a credible response.

One of the more interesting findings in the report is that, according to the government’s primary victimization poll, known as Envipe for its initials in Spanish, there is a significant divergence between the most violent states in terms of murders and those with the highest rates of victimization for all crimes. Of the top five states with the highest levels of criminal victimization, three –Aguascalientes, Mexico City, and Quintana Roo, respectively first, second, and fourth on the list– are rarely linked to high levels of organized crime. Of the states commonly associated with criminal gangs, only Sonora and Chihuahua, third and fifth, respectively, appear at the top of the victimization list.

Furthermore, among the five states with the lowest levels of criminal victimization according to the poll two, Michoacan and Veracruz, have been the site of some of the most notorious acts of violence in recent years. A similar pattern holds for the polling on prevalence of serious crimes: Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacan all appear on the bottom half of the list, while Sinaloa is right in the middle.

This indicates that while organized crime has incorporated ever more activities into its operations, including relatively small-scale crimes like car theft and bank robbery, there is much more to Mexican public security than groups like the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. It also suggests that for all the hand-wringing over the drug traffickers threatening the existence of the Mexican state –which is, to be sure, unfounded– the biggest criminal problems for most Mexicans lie elsewhere.

The report also offers a long look at the states’ inability to punish the crimes committed within them, most worryingly murder. According to the authors, 80.6 percent of all murders in 2010 remained unsolved, compared to 73.3 percent in 2009. There was significant variation around the nation, with the most violence-addled states suffering from the highest rates of impunity. The rate of impunity for murders in Chihuahua, which has been the most violent state in Mexico for the past several years, was worst in the nation in 2010, at 96.4 percent. It was followed by Durango and Sinaloa, which suffered from impunity rates of 95.4 and 93 percent, respectively.

On the other side of the ledger, the states with the best clearance rate for murders are some of the most peaceful, and those with the least reputation for organized crime. The two at the bottom of the list were coastal havens Baja California Sur and Yucatan. The latter state even had a negative rating of impunity, which the authors chalked up to cases from before 2010 being solved or multiple arrests for the same case.

Even beyond the widespread inability to prosecute murders, the report also paints a damning picture of the capacity of Mexican police and criminal justice system. Authorities in much of the nation focused far more on small-scale crimes that carry short penalties: 60 percent of all convictions in Mexico were for for minor crimes, defined as those that carry a jail sentence of three years or less. Serious crimes, which carry a penalty of at least seven years, represented just 12 percent of the total. While minor crimes surely represent a higher proportion of the total crimes, in a country where 80 percent of murders are not punished, resources should be disproportionately shifted toward the more serious crimes.

Efforts to vet police and weed out corrupt officers have also been insufficient. Just a third of Mexico’s states have carried out vetting procedures of all the top police commanders, of whom there are no more than 20 per state. Three states haven’t vetted a single one of their highest-ranking police officials.

Interestingly, comparisons to other countries indicate that Mexico does not suffer from a huge deficit of police in sheer numbers. Mexico employs roughly 485 police for every 100,000 citizens, which is far above the figures for poorer, more violent nations such as Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as wealthy, safer nations like England and the US.

Nonetheless, Mexico’s police are some of the least respected on the face of the earth. According to Mexico Evalua, which used information from a 2010 Latinobarometro poll, only 2.8 percent of Mexicans expressed much trust in the police. In all of Latin America, only the citizens of Peru and El Salvador have less confidence in their police than do the Mexicans. According to the most recent Envipe poll, the number of Mexicans with a lot of trust in the police is significantly better, but at 7.6 percent, it hardly contradicts the notion that popular confidence in police is a major barrier to a more effective criminal justice system.

At such alarming levels, this lack of confidence becomes a cog in a vicious cycle of ineffective policing: distrustful citizens don’t report crimes to nor do they cooperate with the police, because they see little chance of justice. The police, in turn, are isolated from the population they are meant to serve, which does not allow them to carry out their jobs effectively. This ineffectiveness further feeds citizens’ lack of faith.

Mexico Evalua discusses much more over the course of the report, but scores of pages and tens of thousands of words all serve to hammer home one basic point: Mexico doesn’t have the security agencies it needs and it cannot turn into a safer country until it does.

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