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Monday, 17 September 2018

Changing a subculture

Changing the subculture of Mexican police is governance. Is it politics?

As Violence Soared in Mexico, This Town Bucked the Trend
In Mexico the police, often poorly paid and poorly trained, are frequently mistrusted or feared. The population sees them not only as incapable of tackling the country’s chronic violence, but also as often being its cause — at best, complicit in routine infractions like demanding bribes at traffic stops, and at worst, co-opted by criminal gangs…

[C]ommunity meeting[s are] part of an effort by Bernardo León, a professor and writer turned police commander, to transform Morelia’s police officers into a qualified force that is welcomed by local residents. Three years into the effort, the program has shown results…

In 2017, the deadliest year in Mexico in decades, the number of deaths also went up in Michoacán. But in Morelia, the state’s capital, the number of homicide victims decreased 18 percent…

[E]xperts argue that Morelia’s experiment with community policing should be part of a broader national security strategy.

The program has made the force more “solid and resilient,” said Rodrigo Canales, a professor at the Yale School of Management who is leading a study on police forces in Mexico along with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness…

A local police force like Morelia’s “can’t really solve the cartel situation,” said Mr. León, who was appointed to the position in 2015. “What we can do is deal with the issues that regular folks face every day.”

To do so, he recruited psychologists, lawyers and social workers and trained them to mediate neighborhood and domestic conflict. He also inaugurated victims’ centers that offer medical and psychological assistance…

To tackle bureaucratic delays, he introduced new civil courts for misdemeanors. There, citizens charged with noncriminal offenses can pay fines and receive sentences that include performing community service or attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

But perhaps most significant, Mr. León offered citizens the possibility of filing their criminal complaints on the spot to the responding officer instead of having to go in person to the local prosecutor…

Overhauling the police force was an important part of the equation — and that included improving the conditions under which they worked. Mr. León tapped a special federal fund to increase the size of the force to 614 officers, up from 120, and to offer them benefits like retirement funds, scholarships for children and food stamps.

He also spent $2 million on better-quality uniforms that increased officers’ pride in their appearance. Other actions, like buying patrol cars, were subsidized by federal funds set aside for tourist areas and high-crime cities…

Though experts recognize the model’s effects, some argue that part of Morelia’s recent success cannot be reproduced, as it is in part explained by the military’s role in shielding the city from powerful drug gangs, which have been mostly confined to rural areas…

Mr. León will step down this coming week when a new mayor takes office. It is unclear whether his program will be kept in place. This kind of turnover is common and remains one of Mexico’s biggest problems in establishing a consistent security policy…

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