Calderon Pushes Police Reform

 

Modernizing the Mexican Police?

 

With just months to go in office President Felipe Calderon is redoubling his efforts to persuade the country’s state governors to quicken the pace on implementing  the vetting of state police forces and improving law-enforcement training in order to meet a deadline early next year.

His cajoling of Mexico’s governors to accelerate a cleanup that the President sees as crucial for lasting police reform is meeting resistance from some governors, who argue that they don’t have the necessary resources or expertise.

According to a federal government report released in February only eight percent of state police officers had completed a vetting process. The report noted also that states collectively spend just two-thirds of their total security budget allocation.

Since that report there has been some progress. According to federal officials, just under 25 percent of state police have now been vetted. But they worry that vetting will not be completed by January 2013.

President Calderon’s latest push came at meeting in February in the state of Nuevo Leon, where he met governors drawn from the northeast of the country along with local and federal security officials. He argued that rebuilding the police and security institutions will be key in defeating organized crime.

According to Nuevo Leon state public security spokesman, Jorge Domene Zambrano, Calderon urged state officials to make greater progress on the implementation of reform. “The president emphasized the importance of lifting the pace and meeting the deadline,” he says.

President Calderon has been highly aggressive in pushing for reform of the federal, state and local police and while some progress has been made he has faced obstacles and setbacks with, among others problems, legislation becalmed in Congress.

Administration officials and police experts say the mixed record on the progress of reform reflects the difficulties in carrying out effective, lasting police change quickly on the scale Calderon wants. But supporters and critics alike acknowledge that the Calderon administration has laid down a long-term strategy for an effective policing operating within the confines of the law.

“Calderon’s government has made significant and necessary progress in the face of almost overwhelming challenges,” says Martin Edwin Andersen, an expert on Latin American policing and author of the book “The Police: Past, Present and Proposals for the Future.” But he notes there’s a long way to go. “Police forces around the country lack the professional skills needed to contain violence, collect useful intelligence and carry out meaningful investigations.”

Calderon’s reform efforts seek to address those deficiencies. But speaking at a conference at the London School of Economics last month, Mexico’s ambassador in the UK, Eduardo Medina Mora, warned that police reform would take longer than a presidency.

“It will take a generation because you cannot make the changes overnight, it will take time and resources,” he said. The ambassador, a former federal Secretary of Public Safety, added that more needs to be spent on law-enforcement, noting that Mexico spends far less compared to other countries in Latin America.

Under Calderon the money spent on the military, federal, state and municipal police as well as the federal court system has doubled since 2006. But corruption, abuse and ineffectiveness still plague Mexico’s various police departments, say experts such as Andersen.

The biggest progress has been made at the federal level both in terms of numbers and quality of policing. In 2006, there were six thousand federal police officers but now there are 36,000, although Medina Mora believes that number will need to be increased to 100,000, if the size of Mexico and its population is taken into account.

At the federal level as well as the Calderon administration has been highly proactive in combating corruption and poor performance.

In September 2010, the then Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas, announced that a three-month probe had resulted in 3,200 Mexican federal police officers being fired for failing to do their work properly or being linked to corruption. Of those, 465 were charged with crimes. To help ensure dismissed officers don’t try to join state or municipal police departments, their names have been logged in a new computerized public safety database, called Platform Mexico, that can be consulted b police recruiters.

The probe was mounted to kick off new federal police standards, which took effect in May 2010. The new regimen involves officers and future recruits passing lie detector tests, completing financial disclosure statements and undergoing drug testing. The government has sought also to improve the caliber of the federal police by raising salaries and requiring recruits to have college degrees.

Marisela Morales, Mexico’s attorney general, also has kept the pressure up on her department since being appointed in April last year and has fired or investigated more than 700 employees in her short time in the job. She said in a statement in April “purging is fundamental within the Attorney General’s Office,” adding “the Mexico of today requires that those of us in public office act with total commitment and responsibility of service.”

But it has been at the state and municipal level that Calderon has found the going tougher. The President is eager to consolidate Mexico’s 2,400 municipal police departments and there 165,000 officers and to merge them with the 31 state police forces and the police department of the Federal District of Mexico.

The President and his officials argue that consolidating police at the state level will make it easier to oversee professionalization and vetting of officers as well as allowing the harmonization of standards, from operating procedures to recruitment procedures and training.

Further, consolidation would likely improve intelligence sharing.

This huge institutional reform which requires a constitutional amendment, however, has stalled in Congress. State governors support the idea of consolidation, but many mayors who would lose their police departments are opposed.

But not all. Some high-profile mayors and former mayors are supportive.

The former mayor of Ciudad Juarez, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, has backed Calderon’s proposal, arguing that municipal police on low wages in small towns are much more vulnerable to the offer of money or lead. 
”The more a police officer knows, the more he becomes known,” Jose Reyes Ferriz told the El Paso Times. “All this makes him more susceptible to criminals.”

While some state governments have been slow on implementing the vetting of state police officers, others are pushing hard on police reform.  Nuevo León is starting to introduce a change as ambitious as Calderon’s.

In May last year, state Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz  announced the plan to fashion a new state police service called “Fuerza Civil” (Civil Force) that will replace all of Nuevo León’s 51 municipal police forces. The new planned department will have 14,000 new officers, almost double the current number of local police,  who will receive twice the current salary, be eligible for bonuses and benefits such as private health care and housing in guarded communities. The new officers will be trained at police academies in Escobedo and in Guadalupe.

Over five years the new force will cost a $1 billion. Hardly surprisingly, at his February meeting in the state Calderon took the opportunity to applaud Nuevo León on the plans for the Civil Force.

How The Mexican Police Bungled The Manhunt for El Chapo — Exclusive

Earlier this month, Mexican officials leaked to AP an exclusive on the hunt for the world’s most powerful drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the elusive head of the Sinaloa cartel.

They boasted that they had come close to capturing him in late February in Baja California at a resort in Los Cabos where a day earlier U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton held meetings with foreign ministers from the G20.

Jose Cuitláhuac Salinas Martinez, Mexico’s assistant attorney general in charge of organized crime investigations, said it was a near miss in the government’s efforts to arrest the man who has become one of the world’s top fugitives since he escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry truck in 2001.

The official angled his comments to fuel speculation that authorities are near to capturing Guzmán, something President Felipe Calderón  would dearly love to accomplish before he leaves office at the end of the year. “When asked if authorities are close, he just smiled,” according to the AP dispatch.

But AP was told only half the story by Jose Cuitláhuac Salinas Martinez. Mexican and US security sources tell me that the interview was an attempt to muddy the waters and to obscure the reasons why Mexican police failed to get El Chapo in Los Cabos.

They say it was a preemptive strike to head off any potential bad press from the near miss.

Poor Mexico. So Close To The United States; So Far From God.

And since that March 12 AP story Mexican officials – notably the Secretary for Public Security, Genaro Luna Garcia – have continued to do their best to mislead by leaking, for example, a claim to Reforma newspaper and Univision that a prostitute’s period saved the drug boss from being arrested.

According to that story one of Guzmán’s men hired the prostitute for the billionaire drug lord. The Mexican daily Reforma said the prostitute was blindfolded and taken to a rented home in Los Cabos without being told who her client would be.

And Cuitláhuac Salinas Martinez, told the paper that when El Chapo arrived the hooker couldn’t “perform the services she was hired for because she was menstruating.” El Chapo left the house with the intention of returning, and it was while he was away Mexican authorities raided the house.

According to Univision, “Salinas Martinez suggested that had it not been for the postponed encounter, authorities might have finally arrested Guzmán.”

This isn’t what Mexican security sources tell me. The operation, they say, was bungled from the start and the fault rests with the federal police.

AP speculated in the original dispatch that El Chapo’s narrow escape raises the suspicion that he was tipped off. He was, U.S. and Mexican security sources told me, but not by some corrupt official or paid off cop. The federal police alerted El Chapo inadvertently, to the fury of the Americans, by making two major mistakes.

Mexican police chiefs bungled the opportunity handed them by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who through cell phone monitoring by the National Security Agency provided the electronic intelligence that for the first time in years pinpointed El Chapo’s exact whereabouts — in this case Los Cabos.

“This was the first time that we knew exactly where Guzmán was,” says a senior Mexican security source. “All the other occasions when we have been close it was only after the fact that we realized we had come close to El Chapo,” he adds. “On those other occasions, we have raided a property but only knew in advance that there was a high-value Sinaloa cartel target but we didn’t know that it was El Chapo – we hoped it was, but weren’t sure. This time we knew it was him and this was our best chance in years to get him.”

El Chapo is as careful as Osama bin Laden was in using cell phones, knowing full well that the U.S. has tremendous capability to pinpoint targets through voice recognition and honing in on particular phone numbers. Like other cartels, the Sinaloa Federation uses pre-paid cell phones and cartel members change their phones several times a day to evade the American eavesdroppers.

On this occasion one of El Chapo’s lieutenants held on to a phone for too long and security sources tell me that Guzmán phoned him. As a result the NSA’s voice-recognition systems that had been eavesdropping on that mobile phone identified El Chapo’s voice and traced the phone the drug lord was using. “He called one of his lieutenants, whose phone was being monitored,” says a U.S. source. “That guy presumably was being lazy and keeping a cell phone for way too long.”

The NSA alerted DEA intelligence chiefs, who in turn informed the Mexicans. The sources say there was then an argument between the Mexican federal police and the Mexican military over who would take the lead in the security operation to seize El Chapo.

Secretary for Public Security, Genaro Luna Garcia, who will leave office with Calderón, insisted this was a federal police matter. “He saw this as his triumphant moment, too,” says a Mexican source. “He won the argument by appealing to Calderón ,” he adds.

The operation was placed in the hands of Mexico’s federal police chief, Maribel Cervantes Guerrero, the first woman to hold the position. She was only promoted to the job eleven days before the DEA alerted the Mexicans that they’d picked up Guzmán talking with a subordinate.

Last autumn, President Calderón disclosed, “the Mexican Army “probably a couple of times has been in the place where hours before Chapo was.”  He added: “Sooner or later he will fall.”

And the moment seemed to have arrived in Los Cabos.

But from the start, U.S. and Mexican sources say, the planning was clumsy by Cervantes and that she was more focused on keeping the military subordinate and distant from the operation. She was supported in this by her boss, Luna Garcia, who saw the capture of El Chapo as the perfect end to his ministerial career and he didn’t intend to share any of the kudos with the military, say the sources.

“A number of things went wrong right from the being,” says a U.S. source. “First off, they were too obvious on the ground.”

But the biggest blunder came when the Mexican police inadvertently called both the subordinate’s phone and the one El Chapo was using to get a final confirmation of their exact whereabouts just hours before the raid was scheduled to unfold. “This was enough to tip off El Chapo that something was amiss,” says the U.S. source. “He fled shortly before the operation was launched.”

The botched operation ignited a firestorm of recriminations behind the scenes between the Americans and Mexicans with formal protests being lodged by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his Obama Cabinet colleague, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mexican and U.S. sources say.

“Those guys were shouting at each other,” says a Mexican source.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials stationed at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City met shortly after the failed operation with President Calderón to complain.

They expressed their frustration at the poor planning and questionable oversight that led to El Chapo’s flight before federal police could nab him at the mansion in the exclusive Punta Ballena district overlooking the Gulf of California.

The failure to nab El Chapo has undermined the trust that was being built up between U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement and has seriously undermined capturing Guzmán in the near future, say the sources. “This near miss is just going to make him even more cautious,” says a DEA source. “It turns out that recently he has been less in Durango and Sinaloa, where we assumed he was mainly hiding, and has been moving in a triangle between Tijuana, Baja California and Mexicali. Now he will change everything.”

Forbes magazine ranks Guzmán as one of the world’s richest men and estimates that he’s worth more than $1bn.  He has a $7m bounty on his head but yet again El Chapo has managed to elude a manhunt every bit as high-tech and intense as the one mounted for Al Qaeda’s leader.

It is an escape that has seriously impacted on the what has developed into fairly good cooperation between Mexican federal law enforcement and the DEA over the years of Calderón’s administration.

With the Americans on the warpath over the bungling, Genaro Luna Garcia added oil to the fire by leaking – yet again to Reforma – a story about how the DEA had screwed up an operation and laundered some cash for El Chapo—a kind of money-laundering Fast and Furious, a gun-tracking operation launched by the Americans that has backfired badly.

The background on the recent hunt for El Chapo is in my detailed report for Agora published last month.