Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Improving Mexico's Cops

Via Boz, the LA Times has a report today from San Luis Potosí, which is home to a big police training center. Although I thought federal police were trained there, and the reporter talks mostly about state police, so I wonder if the reporter showed in San Luis and wasn't allowed to check out the federal training grounds, and opted for the next best thing. Whatever the case, here's some highlights:
Amid the raging drug war, Mexican officials are trying to fix the police through a hurried nationwide effort that includes better screening and training for candidates on a scale never tried here before.

At the heart of the overhaul is a "new police model" that stresses technical sophistication and trustworthiness and that treats police work as a professional career, not a fallback job.

In steps that are groundbreaking for Mexico, cadets and veteran cops are being forced to bare their credit card and bank accounts, submit to polygraph tests and even reveal their family members to screeners to prove they have no shady connections.

Across Mexico, hundreds of state and municipal officers have been purged from their departments and scores more arrested on charges of colluding with drug gangs.

But Mexico has a habit of trading in one corrupt police agency for another, and it will be a long, uphill struggle to create a law enforcement system that can confront crime and gain the trust of ordinary Mexicans. Until then, crooked cops undermine efforts to strengthen the rule of law and defeat drug cartels.

"If you don't have a safe environment to conduct investigations, then it's going to be extremely difficult to capture the narcos," said the U.S. law enforcement official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "If you have state police that are corrupt and constantly feeding your movements, investigative movements, to the bad guys, you're not going to get anywhere."
Measuring advances becomes really important at some point. I've been reading similar passages for two years now, and many of the ideas mentioned therein seem like common-sense improvements. At the same time, with violence remaining high, it's important that Mexican officials can point to some concrete accomplishments, even if the rawest of raw figures --number of drug-related killings-- remains stubbornly high. Grammatically, García Luna and co. need to move from the present progressive (this is what we are doing) and future (this is what we will do), and into the present perfect (this is what we have done).

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