12/22/11 – The port city of Veracruz, Veracruz, the state’s largest city, had its entire municipal police force disbanded today, making it the first state to do so. The Mexican military (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, Sedena) has taken over the force’s responsibilities, including routine traffic duties. The mass firings were unprecedented in number, with reports as high as 900 officers and 300 administrative personnel discharged in the city of 700,000 citizens. The firings are reportedly because of “heavy infiltration” of the forces by cartels, notably the Zeta cartel, and an effort by officials to eliminate corruption among security forces.
BBC’s Mexico City correspondent, Ignacio de los Reyes, commented that “Corruption and infiltration of the police by criminals are among the biggest challenges Mexico faces in its fight against the cartels”. Since President Felipe Calderón’s campaign against drug trafficking and drug related violence began in 2006, an emphasis of power has been given to the Mexican army and police, coupled with judicial reform as part of the administration’s strategy to restore public security. In addition to allocating $331 million for 200 cities to revamp municipal police forces, the Mexican government has promised to screen its 460,000 municipal police officers with polygraphs, psychological and toxicology tests, and personal and medical background checks.
Veracruz governor Javier Duarte announced that the decision to disband the police force was to keep up with the national police reform program, citing that the Veracruz force was not up to standards, but that those released could re-apply. “All those who belong to the now defunct Veracruz-Boca del Rio force can join the police again once they have passed the tests of trustworthiness demanded by the national system of public security,” he said.
The mass firings occurred just three months after one of the worst drug cartel related attacks, where 35 bodies were publicly abandoned on a busy street in Veracruz. In October of this year, President Calderón announced that “control of Veracruz has been turned over to the Zeta cartel”. October was a particularly bloody month for the state of Veracruz, with 42 murders discovered in two days, and in the same week, the state fired 1,000 members of its state police after failing lie detector tests. The amount of influence different cartels have over police forces added to public mistrust and fear.
Al Jazeera reports that there are 2,400 marines in the state of Veracruz, and now these marines have the task of combating the feuding cartels who are vying for Veracruz’s lucrative drug smuggling and migrant routes. Veracruz was reportedly first controlled by the Gulf cartel, then the Zeta cartel, which is the armed splinter group of the Gulf cartel. In recent months, “stability” was shaken when the Zeta cartel began warring with the Sinaloa cartel over the area. On Wednesday, Governor Duarte and the federal secretary of the interior, Alejandro Poiré, agreed on the policy to eradicate all possible vestiges of corruption.
The Boca del Rio police force is not the first entity to have mass firings. Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, and the northern state of Tamaulipas have also undergone large releases of police agents, though none as big as Veracruz’s. In January 2007, federal authorities confiscated officers’ firearms in Tijuana for ballistics background checks to ensure that the police weapons were not used in criminal activity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal law enforcement level is also under intense scrutiny, with hundreds of federal detectives, prosecutors, and staff from the Attorney General’s office (Procuraduría General de la República) fired after failing lie detector tests. WSJ reports that a tenth of Mexico’s entire federal police forces was fired under suspicion of corruption in 2010.