Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Police Proposals

Ernesto López Portillo opened his column today with the following rumination:
The past October 2nd the news program Teledaily of Monterrey showed images of municipal police torturing a person with a board, in the cells in of the city of Apodaca, Nuevo León. It's a painful and unacceptable episode. Rarely is the degradation of police work demonstrated so visibly, and the event deserves total condemnation. But it's worth asking ourselves if, in effect, police torture is perceived as an important problem for the country.
I spend a good deal of my day consuming Mexican print media (though I don't watch the TV news very often), and this was the first I'd heard of the Apodaca police torture. The fact that the above episode wasn't a national scandal shows that there is a certain tolerance for police torture that is worrying.

López Portillo goes on to consider whether centralizing police duties by removing municipal police departments, as Genaro García Luna has proposed, would make things any better:
Many, more because of common sense and less because of serious analysis, believe that fewer police agencies work better than many. It could be, but the exact opposite could also transpire.


The concentration of police power in Mexico in a few hands could be the worst possible formula under the present circumstances. Ceding police control of the cities to the states is a way to concentrate in one command the power over the police in every federated entity. There wouldn't be any counterweight. Imagine the size of the problem if the command fell into the wrong hands. Twenty years of observing our agencies allows me to affirm that many times the good news of our police fragmentation has been, precisely, the fragmentation of bad practices. The deviations of a few aren't those of everyone. Uniting police or separating them isn't good or bad in and of itself, but uniting sick institutions could provoke the exponential spread of the disease.

I'll go even further: maybe the police fragmentation has protected use from an uncontainable police power, including for the military. So, still with evidence of the disaster that envelops an indeterminate number of municipal police in front of us --others at the same level of government are among the best in the country-- it's only serious to pronounce yourself in favor of police centralization if they are accompanied by forceful ideas and actions to resolve the weakness and absence of systems of effective and sufficient controls over the police across the country, absolutely including the Federal Police itself. The problem of police design, at its depth, doesn't begin with the number of bodies, but rather the effectiveness in controlling the legality of their acts.
Well said. As I've written before, the people who argue for police centralization haven't adequately demonstrated how it will make corruption and abuse less of a problem.

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