Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Closer Look at Tijuana

The most recent Mexican Law Review, edited by John Ackerman, has an in-depth piece about the challenges in cleaning up Tijuana's police department, written by Daniel Sabet. A few highlights:
It is worth noting that while organized crime plagues governments the world over, there has been success in fighting organized crime, dismantling collusive ties with the state and reforming police departments in the United States, Sicily, Hong Kong and Colombia. In all these cases, citizen mobilization played an important role.


Given the failure of municipalities like Tijuana’s to clean up their departments, the federal government began to promote a nationwide vetting program referred to as control de confianza [trust control]. Through the Subsidio para la Seguridad Pública Municipal [Municipal Public Security Subsidy or SUBSEMUN] program, Tijuana received around US$8.2 million in 2008 ($104 million pesos) and a slightly smaller amount in 2009 and 2010.68 In exchange, it had to meet a number of requirements, including submitting their officers to a vetting process run by the federal government.69 Tijuana and other cities (150 in 2008 and 206 in 2009) sent their police to take tests in practical policing skills and knowledge, fill out asset declarations, enter personal information into a national database and submit to psychological, medical, and polygraph tests.70 The use of the lie detector at the municipal level was a new step in Mexican policing, previously employed by only a very few agencies.


While salaries have been raised and efforts have been made to better protect police, accountability mechanisms have not been sufficiently effective, professionalism has been undermined by weak selection criteria, and the police are still vulnerable. Although the department does appear to be moving in the right direction, altering the equation will require sustained long-term reform efforts upheld by several consecutive administrations. Such a long-term approach would allow for gradual improvements in policy implementation and the elimination of loopholes that perpetuate police illegality. This is a tall order in Mexican policing, as elsewhere I have argued that the primary obstacle to successful professionalization has been precisely the lack of continuity in reform efforts across administrations.


Nonetheless, organized crime’s willingness to resort to violence with impunity and the lack of effective accountability mechanisms at a local level, suggests that line-level officers will continue to prefer tolerance and collusive corruption to confrontation. This finding can also be generalized to other Mexican cities with a strong presence of organized crime. Regrettably, a review of the literature and my own research suggests that there are no recognized models of effective local accountability mechanisms in Mexico despite successful international models.
Unfortunately, it was written last September, to soon to dig into the reasons for the decline in violence in 2010. It remains, however, an insightful piece with lots of lessons for different cities across the nation.

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