08/20/19 (written by kheinle) – Systemic challenges have long plagued Mexico’s police forces. Recent investigations into cases of rape and corruption among police in Mexico City and Naucalpan, State of México, respectively, highlight deep-seated issues.
Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX)
Police in Mexico City face scrutiny following allegations that they raped three young women, including two teenage girls. The first case occurred on July 10 when a 27-year-old female was picked up by two Mexico City police officers and taken to a hotel. The victim filed charges two days later alleging the officers raped her there, leading to the detention of one of the two involved officers. The police were members of Mexico City’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Ciudadana).
The second case occurred on August 3 when a 17-year-old girl was walking home from a party in the early morning. The victim reported that four police officers offered to give her a ride home, and then proceeded to rape her in the patrol car. According to the State Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) and District Attorney Ernestina Godoy, the victim chose not to pursue charges after the media published her case out of fear and concern. The officers, therefore, have not been charged.
The third case involved a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly raped on August 8 in the bathroom at the Photography Archive Museum (Museo Archivo de la Fotografía) by a police officer. The suspect in that case was identified and arrested the same day. At least one week after the incident occurred, however, formal charges had still not yet been delivered.
Protestors took to the streets of Mexico City when news broke on the cases, demanding justice for women, accountability, and protection from police. More than 300 people participated in the march for women’s issues on August 13, which escalated when demonstrators broke down the glass doors of the PGJE headquarters. Another protestor tagged Mexico City’s Secretary of Security, Jesús Orta Martínez, with hot pink glitter when he tried to speak to the crowds.
Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum drew a fine line in addressing the events at the women’s march. Sheinbaum, the capital’s first elected female mayor, pledged in July to eliminate violence against women, also known as femicide. She then stressed that justice would be served in the cases of rape allegations and that the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) would be involved in the investigations. Yet she also criticized the protestors for acting as “provocateurs.” “I want to categorically affirm that this was a provocation. [The protestors] wanted the government to use violent methods and in no way will we fall for it,” she said. “There will be an investigation and the prosecutors’ office will resolve it,” she continued.
District Attorney Godoy also stood her ground. “We are not going to fabricate the guilty,” she said, acknowledging that the lack of direct accusations in the August 3 case from the victim has made it tough to act against the accused police officers. Nevertheless, Godoy and Mayor Sheinbaum continue to face public backlash for their handling of these cases.
Naucalpan, State of México (Estado de México, Edomex)
Police in the State of México are also being scrutinized for their alleged involvement in acts of corruption. The Commissioner of Public Security in Nacualpan, State of México, Lázaro Gaytán Aguirre, announced in mid-July that 60 police officers were under investigation. The officers were relieved of their duties while investigations unfold, but were not discharged entirely from the force.
In early August, the local government doubled down on its commitment to rooting out corruption in the police force. Gaytán Aguirre called on citizens to support by reporting incidences of corruption among police. “I invite citizens to let us know and give us the information needed to act,” he said. “I promise that we will protect the information of the informant, keeping it anonymous, so that we can punish and remove the corrupt officers from the force.”
Inadequate Training, Support
The Naucalpan Police exemplify the challenges police face throughout the country. According to Commissioner Gáytan, there had been little to no investment in training, equipment, or uniforms for his force over the past three years. “Naucalpan is deficient in its control and confidence exams,” he said, referencing the measures that police forces take to vet officers. “When there’s disorder, it leads to chaos.”
The current investigation into the 60 officers is part of an effort unfolding this year to clean up the division. La Jornada reported that 80% of the Naucalpan force – 1,300 of the 1,800 officers – will be evaluated for ties to corruption through control and confidence exams. Normally only a third of the force is evaluated annually, but given the three-year hiatus that the Naucalpan Police have had since their last exam, the Commissioner is making a strong push.
Commissioner Gáytan also acknowledged the importance of addressing the factors that drive police to engage in corrupt acts. One specific recommendation he offered was to improve police officers’ career paths and professional perks. “It’s important to create the institutional tools necessary so that they see a career in being in the Police,” he said, arguing that police will be more cautious in “engaging in unjust actions that result in loss of benefits, such as public recognition, scholarships for their children, housing programs, promotions, etc.”
Public Perception of Police
These cases are not the unique to Mexico City and the State of México. For example, 15 local police in Madera, Chihuahua were detained on August 15 for their alleged involvement in thwarting a state police operation against an organized crime group. Two other police officers in Iguala, Guerrero were named in the National Human Rights Commission’s recent report detailing their involvement, and that of the Iguala Police Station, in the 2014 disappearance of 43 student activists.
Given the systemic challenges that undermine the police and the public’s pushback to hold officers accountable, polling shows that the public dissatisfaction with the police. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI), a large majority of individuals 18-years-old and above who participated in its National Survey of Victimization and Perception on Public Security (ENVIPE) in 2018 found police to be only “somewhat effective” (“algo efectivo”) as opposed to “very effective” (“muy efectivo”). Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) fared the best with 15.4% of respondents grading their effectiveness as “very effective” with 49.1% saying “somewhat effective.” The public viewed State Police (Policía Estatal) worse with 7.8% saying “very effective” versus 43.4% saying “somewhat effective.” Preventative Municipal Police (Policía Preventativa Municipal, PPM) did slightly worse with 5.5% expressing “very effective” and 37.4% saying “somewhat effective.” Traffic Police (Policía de Tránsito) had only 5.1% of respondents say they do their job “very effective[ly]” and 35.1% say only “somewhat effective[ly].”
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also openly criticized the effectiveness and quality of the police. He plans to ultimately fold the police into the newly launched National Guard within 18 months. To read more about the National Guard, click here..
Chart. “Población de 18 años y más, por tipo de autoridad que identifica según nivel de efectividad que considera sobre su trabajo.” In “Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública.” Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. 2018.