Mexican federal police patrolling the streets of Ciudad Juárez.
Mexico, News Briefs

Juárez Police Chief Will Fire 400 Officers To Clean Up Force And Combat Drug Cartels

June 8, 2011 By Andrew OReilly

Mexican federal police patrolling the streets of Ciudad Juárez.

The new police chief of Ciudad Juárez announced that he plans to lay off 400 officers by the end of the year, during one of his first interviews since taking over the dangerous job in March.

Chief Julian Leyzaola, who previously said that four of every 10 officers in Juárez was corrupt, declared the purge Tuesday and added that rebuilding the police force was the first step in reclaiming Juárez from widespread lawlessness linked to drug cartels operating in the region. The city’s police department has already lost 160 of its 2,300 officers, most of whom have quit.

“Many of those who have left prefer to leave than to get caught,” Leyzaola said. “I hope the rest of them understand that we are not going to accept (officers) that do not intend to serve.”

Leyzaola gained international notoriety before coming to Juárez when he was the police chief of Tijuana. During his tenure in that border city, he helped reduce crime, cleaned up the city’s police force and openly confronted drug cartels, but human-rights groups accused him of torturing officers and people in order to obtain information and confessions.

Juárez’s new chief faces an even tougher environment than he did in Tijuana, with the city frequently listed as one of the most dangerous in the world and the Juárez and Sinaloa Cartels allegedly battling for control of the town. On Tuesday the prosecutor general of Chihuahua, which Juárez is the largest city in, announced that there were 9,000 active drug cartel members in the region.

“What happened is that the cartels entered into a conflict, and then organized crime began to get involved in common crimes. What happened when we confronted this is that the Juárez cartel, which then had 500 people who controlled (their operations) throughout the state, added 5,000 gang members to its force,” said Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte. “They brought weapons from the United States and began to fight the Sinaloa cartel that got hold of other gangs. In less than 60 days, this (Sinaloa) group had 4,000 armed members, and this is the challenge that the governor was faced with, but we are working each day to restore the peace to our state.”

Tuesdays announcement was the first time a Mexican official has quantified the membership of warring drug cartel organizations and came after a meeting between Chihuahua state officials, business leaders and former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who was invited to Juárez to discuss security issues.

Duarte also announced last month a call for young professionals and college graduates to join the police forces of Ciudad Juárez and other cities in Chihuahua that have been riddled with corruption and drug cartel influence. The new strategy, which raises the pay for recruits with higher education, hopes to draw in 2,100 college students into Juárez’s police force alone.

Both of yesterday’s announcements came as hundreds of protestors are crossing the country in what has been dubbed the “Caravan of Peace.” The week long, 12-state tour that ends in Juárez was started by poet-turned-activist Javier Sicilia after his 24-year old son was killed by cartel members in March.

The march and Tuesday’s news from Juárez, however, have both been overshadowed in the Mexican media by Saturday’s arrest of the former mayor of Tijuana for the possession of 88 firearms and nearly 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Self-proclaimed billionaire Jorge Hank Rhon was arrested when soldiers stormed his sprawling Tijuana estate that includes a casino, a huge private zoo and a soccer stadium.

In Mexico it is illegal to own or possess a firearm.

Photo: Jesús Villaseca Pérez @ Flickr.

1 Comment

[…] While there is recognition that changing cultural attitudes towards the police  — something supposedly financed by Plan Merida — will likely require generations of change, is the decision to fire 400 Juarez police officers (ahead of the Sicilia’s peace caravan) related, as the Latin American News-Dispatch suggested? […]

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