A recent opinion poll in Mexico reveals an embarrassing lack of public trust in security forces, exemplifying yet again how institutional failures risk boosting support for problematic responses to insecurity such as the militarization of citizen safety initiatives and the formation of self-defense movements.
The Social Studies and Public Opinion Center (Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública – CESOP) of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies has published a survey in which Mexico’s marines and armed forces were the highest-rated public security institutions, while municipal police forces ranked the lowest.
Two-thirds of respondents said they believe that police are very or reasonably “controlled by organized crime,” while over 36 percent believe that authorities participate in criminal activities. A quarter of those surveyed affirmed they would not report a crime due to lack of trust in authorities.
Moreover, 56 percent of those surveyed thought that corruption was the main affliction of police bodies, while over 66 percent stated there was little to no chance of ending corruption in the country.
When asked what strategy would best improve citizen trust in the police, a plurality of those surveyed — 29 percent — chose militarization, 28 percent opted for vetting procedures, and over a fifth of people preferred a total overhaul of the police force.
Over half of people approved of Mexican citizens forming self-defense groups. However, these civilian forces received a lower vote of confidence than state forces when it came to providing local security.
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As similar surveys have indicated in the past, Mexican authorities — and particularly the local police — suffer from a severe lack of public trust. This erosion of confidence has been exacerbated by extreme cases of police collusion with organized crime and widespread incompetence.
There have been serious consequences to the reputation of the police compared to their military counterparts, which despite also seeing their approval ratings drop over the past decade, remain the public’s preferred force for combating organized crime. This has helped prop up the highly militarized internal security strategy consolidated by President Felipe Calderón in 2006, which has been linked to a host of human rights abuses and generally lackluster results in terms of improving security.
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Another result of official abuses and public distrust of security institutions is, as the recent survey shows, heightened support for civilians taking security matters into their own hands. As Mexico’s organized crime landscape descends into chaos and its homicide rate spirals out of control, it is likely that the country will see more self-defense groups gain in strength, a prospect that could generate problems of its own in the long term.