Unfit Police Concentrated in 10 Mexican States

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Nearly half of the 40,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement officials recently found unfit for duty were concentrated in just 10 of Mexico’s 31 states.

According to data presented at the 33rd meeting of the National Public Security Council, 38,669 of Mexico’s municipal, state, and federal police failed to pass vetting tests due to links with organized crime, drug use, or lack of physical or psychological fitness.

Forty-eight percent of those who failed are concentrated in just 10 states: Coahuila, Zacatecas, Sonora, Jalisco, Veracruz, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Mexico State, and Colima. The situation is particularly dire in Sinaloa, Coahuila, and Zacatecas, where half of security forces failed the evaluations.

The Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP), who compiled the data, said that Mexico had 506,609 police officers across the three levels of government. As of June, 52 percent of those employees had taken tests such as polygraphs, toxicology screenings, and background investigations. Of those who failed, 15 percent belonged to federal agencies such as the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), the Federal Police (PF), and the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), while the majority worked for state or local authorities.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the Calderon administration has been much more aggressive about removing corrupt officials than past governments, the vetting process, brought in by a national security reform law in 2009, has been slow going. President Felipe Calderon has clashed with state authorities over the speed of the assessments. When the president called on the state governors in November to finish evaluating their public security forces by May 2012, many objected, saying that the proposed timeline was unrealistic. The governor of Guerrero scoffed that Mexico shouldn’t aspire to have a “police force like that of Switzerland.”

Although the lack of both resources and political will, especially at the state and local levels, has forced the Calderon administration to downgrade its goals, there have been some successes. Since coming to office in March 2011, Attorney General Marisela Morales has conducted an aggressive purge of her office, firing over 1000 employees and leading 21 of the 31 state PGR heads to resign in protest. In November, she announced that by December 1,500 officers would be fired from Mexico’s Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI) as part of her plan to weed out corruption from the federal security services.

There is concern, however, that mass firings of police may have dangerous consequences. Recently dismissed police, like army deserters, make easy recruits for criminal organizations. In May the state of Jalisco halted a purge of corrupt police after gangs posted a sign asking “Have you been fired?” and promising benefits for former police officers. As Mexico’s former Attorney General Samuel Gonzalez has pointed out, by training police who are then fired and go to work for gangs, the government is essentially helping to staff organized criminal groups.

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