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Police Practice and Research

Vol. 10, No. 4, August 2009, 333348

Reforming La Polica: looking to the future of policing in Mexico
Anthony P. LaRose* and Sean A. Maddan
Department of Criminology, University of Tampa, Tampa, FL, USA
& Research (online)

Historically, policing in Mexico has been known more for its rampant corruption than
crime fighting or public service. However, recent decades have seen not only a marked
rise in crime, but a boom in substantive reform efforts. This study examines the historical
development of law enforcement reform in Mexico with an emphasis on the last decade
which has produced the most revolutionary changes in policing practices in Mexico. Not
only does this discussion include the last decade of substantive reforms and subsequent
outcomes, but also explores an overview of the current Mexican presidents law
enforcement reform initiatives, and potential reforms based on US attempts. This
research then focuses on survey responses and direct interviews of criminological
experts on law enforcement in Mexico and their predictions on the future of police
reforms, with a focus on policing in Mexico City. The interviews focused on the reform
initiatives by Mexicos two most recent presidents and predictions of their likely success.
These experts see success of current reforms as very unlikely. Policy implications are
also discussed.
Keywords: Mexico; police corruption; police reform; police eras Mexico

While accurate figures are difficult to find, it is generally agreed that Mexico has had one
of the highest crime rates in the Americas. In fact, according to Daz-Aranda (2006, p. 163)
the last 20 years have seen index crimes reach an all time high. A more recent study by
Mexicos own congress reports that Mexicos murder rate is now the highest in the Western
Hemisphere (Reporte CESOP, 2007). This reports findings also indicate that total crimes
have nearly doubled in the last decade; in particular, violent crimes such as homicides,
kidnappings, and arms trafficking are up 25% in the first half of this year alone. News
reports from Mexico are replete with examples of violence and lawlessness. Even the police,
government officials, and media members are no longer safe (Worldpress.org, 2006) with
murders and assassinations becoming almost commonplace in some areas. One police chief
in the border town of Nuevo Laredo who vowed to combat the drug cartels was gunned
down only hours after he took office (Rodriguez, 2005) and Mexicos acting national federal
police chief is suspected of having been assassinated by the Sinaloa drug cartel (Olson,
2008, p. 1). One study even claims that violence is one of the top five causes of death in
Mexico (Briceo-Len, 1999). While the growth of the drug cartels fuels this wave in
violence directly, so too does a nation of corrupt police forces, ineffectual government
institutions including the military, and suspect politicians often assumed to be in collusion
with organized crime groups. These factors appear to be contributing to overall social disorganization and decreased faith never particularly strong in the rule of law.
*Corresponding author. Email: alarose@ut.edu
ISSN 1561-4263 print/ISSN 1477-271X online
2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/15614260802586327


A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

High levels of crime and violence have not been limited to large urban areas; these high
levels of crime have permeated the Mexico countryside including resort areas such as
Acapulco, as well as colonial towns such as Oaxaca (Parra, 2007) where even beheadings
have occurred. In the rural state of Michoacn, an entire 32-man police force resigned or
refused to return to work after being threatened by local drug gangs (Worldpress.org, 2006,
p. 2). Crime has become so prevalent in some areas that in 1997 the government of Mexico
City replaced 3000 of the police with military personnel (Arroyo, 2003, p. 12) and President
Felipe Caldern has found it necessary to call out the military to assist often outmanned and
outgunned local police along the northern border (Bachelet, 2007; Parra, 2007). In 1997, not
surprisingly, these rising crime rates had Mexicos citizens and politicians clamoring for
Generally, attempts to combat crime have focused on reforming police organizations
and operations and have met with, at best, very limited success. As in other countries, police
in Mexico are considered the first line of defense against criminal behavior. For decades,
Mexicos citizens have been clamoring for substantive reform to combat government
corruption, and for the past half century these pleas have focused on transforming Mexicos
notoriously corrupt law enforcement agencies. This outcry was reflected in the last several
presidential administrations where crime and police misfeasance have been part of nearly
all political party platforms, particularly during the last two elections (Olayo, 1997, p. 7).
To address these citizen concerns, the federal government, in the spirit of reform, has
launched numerous commissions to study the police and police operations (Secretara de
Seguridad Pblica, 2001; Tello-Pen & Garza, 2002).
In 2003, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was even hired to expedite the
reform process and target what was Mexicos ever growing crime wave. Not surprisingly,
his suggestions for reform (at the street level) were nothing new: better pay, equipment, and
training. Mexican government officials (Secretara de Seguridad Pblica, 2001, p. 19) and
scholars (Parra & Reynolds, 1997; Vincenteo, 2001) have made similar demands for
decades. However, few if any of Giulianis suggestions have been implemented and no data
exist to reflect success or failure of his proposal, however, skepticism (Arroyo, 2003) of
likely success abounds. Ironically, while touring Mexico City, Giuliani himself may have
been the target of a kidnapping plot.
There have been important structural reforms in Mexican law enforcement over the last
decade including the reorganization and re-prioritization of responsibilities at both the
municipal (Brown, Benedict, & Wilkinson, 2006) and federal levels (Reames, 2003). For
example, in 2001 the federal government of Mexico created the Federal Agency of Investigation (Agencia Federal de Investigacin or AFI) to replace the notoriously corrupt Federal
Judicial Police (PJF) (Agencia Federal de Investigacin, 2001). Other reform attempts have
included creating a national system of public safety, more aggressive laws to combat organized crime, a national crusade against delinquency, and the creation of a federal secretary
of pubic safety, and greater cooperation between the police and military (Reporte CESOP,
2007, p. 21).
This work contends that these activities suggest a growing desire and attempt to institute
important organizational and community-based reforms in Mexico. Based on the considered
opinions of recognized experts in the field, this paper attempts to predict the outcome of these
changes, particularly in relation to the struggle to eliminate institutional corruption. Additionally, this work will speculate on several recommendations as to what types of reform may
be necessary to address Mexicos serious problems of police corruption and inefficiency.
History, as well as our respondents, seems to suggest that substantive reform is unlikely with
corruption and inefficiency having become deeply rooted within Mexicos police institutions.

Police Practice and Research: An International Journal


Review of the literature

Attempting to predict any organizations future, the organizations past must be understood
first. This section explores the history of Mexicos law enforcement from the birth of
Modern Mexico and seeks to address the paucity of interest among scholar (Cao & Zhao,
2005, p. 404) in the study of crime-related issues in Latin America, and particularly Mexico
where experimental studies of the police are limited (Brown et al., 2006; LaRose, Caldero,
& Gonzlez-Gutirrez, 2006). Mexico has gone through several somewhat distinct eras; we
categorize these eras in relation to Kelling and Moores historical model of law enforcement
in the USA (1988, p. 6) that suggests the USA has gone through three distinct law enforcement eras pre-political, political, and reform. Mexico, we suggest, has traversed four eras
of policing: Pre-Revolution/Colonial, Post-Revolution/Political, Durazo, and the current
Community Policing.
Pre-Revolution/Colonial era (15001900)
There is very little information on colonial policing in Latin America; mention of colonial
policing in Mexico is virtually non-existent. Even scholarship focused on policing in the
colonies of the former European powers is limited. However, as Cole (1999, p. 89) points
out, from what information is available, there are several consistencies amongst the structures and functions of colonial police forces which can be traced back as far as the fifteenth
century. Cao and Zhao (2005, p. 405) offer a similar analysis stating that [T]he descriptions
of the police in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru can be readily applied to what
happened in other Latin American countries without much modification.
Colonial policing was fundamentally a by-product of colonial occupation, paramilitary
in nature, and focused more on maintaining colonial rule than protecting citizens from criminal events. This paramilitary structure and operation led to very little distinction between
the police and the military with senior police officers often recruited from the colonial
powers military ranks (Cole, 1999, p. 90). It is likely a similar process existed in Mexico
under Spanish rule. Police would have focused on controlling the indigenous persons in
Mexicos rural areas and protecting economic interests throughout New Spains established
cities and towns.
It is evident in Mexico that law enforcement practices still utilize policing strategies
developed in the colonial era. This paramilitary connection was even further entrenched in
Mexico policing as revolutionary forces purposely sought to blend the police and the
military as a means of harassing and intimidating their political enemies. The paramilitary
focus on internal security rather than crime fighting and protecting citizens continues to
adversely affect policecitizen relations in Mexico (Cruz, 2003) where police are seen as an
occupying force rather than as figures of legal and moral authority.
Post-Revolution/Political era (19001970)
In many ways, Mexicos Post-Revolution era reflects the USAs political era, with politics
and conflict throughout society and the police. As with her northern neighbor, the growth
of formal, modern police institutions in Mexico reflects the growth in urbanization and
modern police departments (Piccato, 2001). More specifically, in a city divided by revolutionary sentiments, counterrevolutions (a majority of the population) backed by the military
clashed with pro-revolutionaries who sought allies among a variety of groups, including the
police force. Both sides desperately fought to control the means of coercion in the capital
city (Davis, 2006, p. 5). From this conflict arose a need by the leaders of the revolutionary


A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

forces for a new police force willing to support the revolutionaries and harass their opponents. As a result, Davis (2006, p. 6) argues that the Post-Revolution era saw a police force
with a great deal of autonomy, but very little oversight more a tool of political oppression
than law enforcement. The seeds of conflict and corruption between citizens and law
enforcement were sewn during this era of Mexican policing.
During the early part of the twentieth century, a mix of military troops and civilian law
enforcement shared policing responsibilities and conflicts between the two were constant
and ultimately led to usurpation of high-level police administration positions by the
military. While this maneuver helped solidify the grip of pro-revolutionary forces on the
police, it did little to curb conflict between the police and other branches of government.
The result was a police force willing to ignore other government agencies and dispense
justice autonomously (Davis, 2006). This Dirty Harry approach to justice would lead not
only to an expansion of police corruption and violence toward political rivals, but eventually
directed towards citizens as well culminating in direct, armed conflict between the police
and citizens. As such, citizen mistrust took hold and would continue to grow for the next
several decades as political leaders utilized the police to harass and punish opponents. Paradoxically, this growing mistrust of police and government institutions would fuel citizen
willingness to settle legal issues informally through what would become known as mordidas, or bites slang for the small bribes extorted by police rather than the formal criminal justice process. Subsequently, corruption has become an institutionalized part of
policecitizen interactions. Mexico, like other Latin American police agencies, lost its legitimacy and must regain that legitimacy if it is to regain public confidence and become an
active participant in supporting democratic values (Cao & Zhao, 2005).
Durazo era (19701990)
While the culture of corruption that infests policing throughout Mexico developed over
several decades, it found its deepest roots and greatest reach (Davis, 2006, p. 5) in Mexico
City. The epitome of corruption was found in one person in particular Arturo Durazo
(Gonzlez, 1983), who was a political appointment of then President Jos Lpez Portillo.
The appropriately named Darkest of the Dark, Durazo, with the help of his subordinates,
deliberately institutionalized corruption within Mexico Citys police agencies. As chronicled
by Gonzlez (1983) he extorted weekly kickbacks from his lieutenants who subsequently
demanded similar amounts from their subordinates, and this chain continued down to the
individual beat officer who preyed on average citizens. The process became so entrenched,
that even today many police must still return part of their meager salaries to their commandants for such necessities as working revolvers, ammunition, and bulletproof vests. One
police officer in Mexico City confirmed this cycle, The majority of delinquents carry better
weapons than we do. We even have to pay for bullets; they charge us 10 pesos (about $1
US), and most of the time we shoot into the air just to scare people (Azaola, 2007, p. 3).
While patrol officers attempted to get by on about $400 per month salary, Durazo, like
many mafia kingpins, bought exotic sports cars and private aircraft and even built himself
a mansion in the hills overlooking Mexico City complete with a disco, casino, racetrack, and
heliport (Zarembo, 2000). During the 1970s, Durazo built a legacy of extortion, drug trafficking (Gonzlez, 1983), and even torture and murder (Arroyo, 1998).
Sadly, these behaviors have almost become standard operating procedure for police
throughout Mexico today where problems of police corruption have been among the most
wide-spread and insidious in the nation (Davis, 2006, p. 4). Corruption has become so
rampant that Mexico may have hit a critical mass (LaRose et al., 2006) as the citizens are

Police Practice and Research: An International Journal


no longer willing to tolerate such high levels of graft and violence. The cry for substantive
institutional reforms has remained strong and steady (Morris, 1999) as has the willingness
of academics and the media to highlight corruption and abuse not only within the police and
other government institutions, but also the dominant political parties (Morris, 1999). Ironically, although several studies suggest a low citizen opinion of police in Mexico (Brown
et al., 2006) and a lack of faith in police to combat corruption (Transparencia Mexicana,
2001), among the most discussed and popularly suggested solutions to address these
problems has been the implementation of community policing reforms (LaRose et al., 2006;
Tello-Pen & Garza, 2002).
Community Policing era (1990present)
Spearheaded, at least in part, by grassroots movements for political reform (Morris, 1999)
recent police reform attempts in Mexico, particularly Mexico City, have taken many forms
including substantive efforts such as increasing professional development programs,
advanced training, and better screening of officer candidates (Davis, 2003; LaRose et al.,
2006; Secretara de Seguridad Pblica, 2006; Tello-Pen & Garza, 2002). In addition
numerous community relations and policecommunity cooperation programs have been
launched in an effort to reform law enforcement. One particularly interesting public
relations campaign involved dressing mounted police officers as traditional Mexican
cowboys or charros (Davis, 2003, p. 17) in order to draw tourists while still fighting crime.
In 1997, Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas held a prificatio or purification (Anozie,
Shinn, Skarlatos, & Urzua, 2004) where he utilized polygraphs and restructured officer
beats in an attempt to increase accountability between the police and the community. While
not a particularly successful approach it led to rapid police dissatisfaction and ultimately
strikes (Davis, 2003) it did signal an effort on the part of the government to address longstanding problems of corruption and police/citizen mistrust. Unfortunately, according to
Davis (2006, p. 4) police reforms have not only failed, but may have contributed to
additional undermining of the rule of law due to the increase in inter-agency conflicts that
these reforms provoke.
Another, although perhaps misguided, attempt to reduce corruption in Mexico City was
the act of firing 4000 male officers and hiring a corresponding number of women specifically because they [women] were thought to be, by nature, more honest. Subsequent reviews
of the program, however, showed that many of the new hires were no less susceptible to
corruption than their male counterparts.
Still, reform efforts continue and in 2002, later Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador mandated the creation of the Community Police (polica comunitaria) who
work with specific neighborhoods in the hope of improving community conditions and
policecommunity cooperation. These elite police officers undergo rigorous physical and
social exercises and they are selected for their skills, bravery, and capacity to work together
as a solitary group (Davis, 2003, p. 20). These community policing officers often team with
academics at the UNAM and participate in joint programs such as town-hall type
meetings, policecitizen activities, safety publications, community liaisons, and Drug
Abuse Resistance Education-type programs (LaRose, Caldero, & Hickey, 2004). Finally, as
previously mentioned, a more controversial, but significant reform effort has included
contracting the consulting firm of Rudy Giuliani as a precursor to implementing a zero
tolerance approach in Mexico City.1
Mexicos efforts to reform her police agencies have been met with disappointing results,
thus far, and a great deal of hope has been placed in community policing-type programs and


A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

philosophies. Past efforts have included organizational restructuring, recruiting efforts,

additional training, and even combining military and civilian police forces. None have, at
least to an appreciable level, seemed to have improved crime rates or inspired community
confidence or support. Poor training, equipment, and salaries continue to stymie reform
efforts and perpetuate corruption within Mexicos police agencies. Mexico seems to have
prematurely jumped to a Community Policing era, without having gone through the necessary reform stage in order to truly professionalize the police and seriously address the
corruption, disorganization, recruitment, and training that permeate law enforcement
throughout Mexico.
This research examines recent trends and the future direction of policing in Mexico. Using
a qualitative design, this study utilized survey and interview instruments in regards to
practitioners in Mexican law enforcement and academics whose research area is in policing
practices in Mexico. This section outlines the research methodology we incorporated into
the project.
Data and sample
A non-probability, purposive sampling technique was utilized in this research. Also known
as a judgmental sample, this sampling technique allows researchers to select subjects based
on their knowledge of a topic. In this research, we wanted to ascertain experts opinions on
the direction of policing and law enforcement practices in Mexico. These experts were
selected based on their practitioner experience in Mexicos law enforcement arena,
academic interest, and history of reporting focused on Mexican police practices. Our total
sample (N = 24) was a combination of academics (13), news reporters (7), and current law
and former enforcement personnel (4) from both the USA and Mexico. This allowed the
research team to comment on the future direction of policing and law enforcement efforts
in Mexico.
Data were then collected in a two-pronged manner. First, a self-administered survey
instrument was provided to all the subjects in the sample by email. The email contained a
personalized cover letter and the survey instrument as an attachment. Even though many of
the email addresses were considered dead, we still received just over a 50% response rate
(53.5%). In an attempt to reach these subjects, follow-up emails to new email addresses or
the existing email addresses were sent, this still did not generate a greater return.
Second, subjects were asked in the survey if they would like to be interviewed further
in regards to their responses. All of the individuals (100%) who completed the survey
indicated that they would be willing to participate in a formal interview about their survey
responses. Follow-up interviews were then conducted a few weeks after the survey was
received by the research team. Interviews lasted anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes in duration. The interviews both clarified responses to the survey and, in some cases, brought forth
ideas the research team had not originally considered to be problematic for Mexican law
Survey instrument
The survey instrument was a single topic questionnaire that focused on both past and emerging law enforcement strategies in Mexico. Specifically, the instrument was designed to

Police Practice and Research: An International Journal


assess respondent attitudes toward past and current police reforms, forces impacting police
reform, and likely success of ongoing reform programs. Surveys were provided in both
English and Spanish. The original English version was translated into Spanish by Lola
Hidalgo-Calle, a native Spanish speaker and Associate Professor of Languages at the
University of Tampa, FL. She also provided translation of responses in Spanish.

Analytic strategy
Since this research is primarily based on qualitative data and survey instruments, more
complex statistical procedures are not appropriate for this study. Univariate statistics were
the cornerstone of the evaluation of the surveys. In particular, we focused on percentages,
means, and standard deviations. While these statistics do not have the power of higher level
statistical techniques like multiple regression, univariate statistics lent themselves to examining how the subjects as a whole view certain police techniques in Mexico.

There are many limitations to any research project utilizing a non-probability sampling
design. First, since the sample is a purposive design there is the potential that knowledgeable
individuals were omitted from this study. Practitioners, policy makers, and the public might
have added another dimension to this research. Second, the fact that we had only just above
a 50% response rate is a problem in that these subjects views were left out of our analysis.
While these are problematic, they are not necessarily critical defects to this research. The
fact that there was considerable agreement on issues suggests that these limitations were not
as problematic as it would at first appear.
Even if every one of the remaining subjects had differed in responses, a majority would
have been represented as we report in the next section.

Analysis and findings

The survey instrument first sought to evaluate the problems that law enforcement officers
in Mexico will face. Respondents ranked (116, 1 being the biggest problem) a list of criminal offenses they thought would have the most impact on Mexican policing in the future.
Table 1 provides a picture of the crimes that respondents identified as the key forms of
crime Mexico will face in the next decade.
As can be seen, two offenses were predicted by our sample to impact future law enforcement the most: homicide and drug trafficking. Due to its inherent nature, homicide is always
a problem for police in any country but is becoming an increasing concern in Mexico.
According to one respondent, In Mexico City, we have always had crime, but not so much
violent crime. Now, violence and murder have become a part of every day life. Another
suggested that fear of crime is so great that citizens of Mexico no longer feel safe even in
their homes, workplaces, or churches.
Drug trafficking, on the other hand, is somewhat unique to Mexico as it serves as the
main corridor for drugs being shipped from Mexico or South America to the USA. The
spike in homicides in Mexico, especially over the past decade, is generally contributed to
the rise in drug trafficking and other organized crime groups and their battles for control of
lucrative drug routes to the USA. This puts, and will continue to exert, a special strain on
the police in Mexico and makes the area along the border among the most dangerous in the

Table 1.

A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

Future crime in Mexico.

Type of crime
International terrorism
Auto theft
Drug use
Juvenile delinquency
Drug trafficking
Drunk driving

Modal response

world. A respondent supported this point by stating, The money generated by the drug
traffickers coupled with the immense and porous border Mexico shares with the U.S. make
drug trafficking and narco-terrorism the most pressing crime issue facing Mexico.
Other crimes listed as impacting the Mexican police in the future included auto theft,
robbery, narco-terrorism, kidnapping, and juvenile delinquency. With the aside of narcoterrorism (identified by several respondents as the most pressing crime-related issue in
Mexico), and the corruption and violence it begets, the offenses that are predicted to impact
the police in Mexico the most are similar to problems faced in other countries. It is unlikely
that Mexico will see a real drop in crime until the drug traffickers are under control. But,
how likely is that, when they control entire towns? one respondent pondered.
Since the crime in Mexico is reflective of other countries, the respondents were asked
about the potential effectiveness of US programs that have mustered some support. Respondents (62%) suggested that problem-oriented policing might be the only US program to
have an impact on future crime. Alternatively, those surveyed had little hope that programs
such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), Compstat, zero tolerance policing, and
Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) would have any kind of impact on
criminal offending in Mexico whatsoever. How can [Mexico] have zero tolerance when
crime and corruption are almost a daily part of life.
All of the respondents questioned the ability of Mexican law enforcement to adequately
deal with crime (across all categories) in the future that was denoted above. This is due to
the manner in which law enforcement in the present handle criminal offending. Table 2
presents the factors that respondents suggested limit the police in their ability to combat
crime. Again, the respondents were asked to rank the factors associated with police
efficiency from 1 to 6.
Corruption is by far the most frequently occurring response in regards to what hinders
the police both in public perception of police organization and ultimately their ability to
combat crime. One respondent summarized:

Police Practice and Research: An International Journal

Table 2.


Factors influencing the efficacy of Mexican policing.

Poor training
Low salaries
Poor technology
Low education levels

Modal response

As the most visible and available representatives of any government, the police have the
power to either subvert or buttress the democratic process. If they are seen as corrupt the
stability and viability of the social, economic and political processes which stabilize any society are in jeopardy.

Another put it even more succinctly, There is a lot of corruption of the police in
Bribery as a form of corruption is a closely ranked second and received particular
mention by numerous respondents as the most prevalent form of police corruption and a byproduct of the factors addressed in the remaining categories (poor training, low salaries,
poor technology, and low education levels). Corruption and bribes go together, explained
one scholar, corruption corrodes everything it undermines training, misuses technology,
and leads to abuses of power to keep corruption from being exposed. Another respondent
affirmed this position. Taking bribes is the most visible aspect of police corruption. Bribes
undermine the integrity and legitimacy of the individual officers as well as their organization. Another respondent offered a very personal observation:
The corruption [of the police] is absolutely institutionalized. I dont know anyone, Mexican or
American, who has not had to pay a bribe in some fashion either to avoid an arrest or just to
park illegally. I have been traveling and studying in Mexico for almost 20 years and each time
I travel there I wind up paying off someone.

It is worth noting that few respondents placed the problem of corruption solely at the feet
of the police and is often seen as part of a larger political and cultural issue.
According to most respondents, police corruption was directly attributable to the larger
political nature of Mexico. Police corruption is largely a result of political disorder and
corruption, and the unwillingness or inability [of the government] to address the issue.
Indeed, an observer of police behavior noted, Bribes provide more of an incentive for all
parties involved and there is not much being done by the police force to stop bribes from
transacting. There is no accountability amongst the officers. Echoing this sentiment, a
fellow respondent stated:
The police model the political system that generates them. The police reflect the cultural values
they serve. When they reflect the proper values by serving the needs of the community and
represent integrity and honesty, they will be granted respect and honor, until then, they are
nothing more than a gang in a uniform.

Another continued:
It is very easy to point fingers at the police and blame them for taking bribes, but they do not
operate in a vacuum. Many citizens are very willing to pay the mordidas to avoid a [traffic]


A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

ticket, arrest, or to operate a business illegally. They [the police] can only take what the citizens
are willing to give.

Another response to an interview linked policecitizen complicity in bribery and

Bribes are a factor because the police are not paid well enough to support themselves or their
families. They can have a better quality of life and they have no reason not to accept bribes,
whether it be to not report crimes or for helping drug traffickers.

In addition, the money and power of the drug cartels were noted for their adverse impact on
police organizations and operations and contribution to other crimes and social problems. It
is a criminal phenomenon that brings another series of illicit behaviors (trafficking of arms,
money laundering, drug addiction, robberies, etc.) that generate a violent atmosphere at
different levels in Mexican society. When police make only a few thousand pesos per year
and receive very little public support, why would they risk their lives to fight the drug
cartels? Another respondent echoed this sentiment. The money the drug dealers can offer
the cops is often more than they earn in a year. Who would not take the money and look the
other way? Recognizing the dangers the drug cartels pose, one observer has concluded that
drug trafficking has become the first threat in the matter of security for the government and
the society in general and the police individually.
Respondents were next queried about current reforms that are occurring in Mexicos law
enforcement agencies. Table 3 provides the results of this analysis on the effectiveness of
current reforms (1 = very effective, 5 = very ineffective).
Responses to the survey suggested that the majority of police reforms have little to no
effectiveness for Mexican law enforcement operations. There have been numerous
attempts to reform the police and reduce corruption, suggested one respondent, but none
have seemed to have had any impact. Efforts to reduce corruption, additional ethics training at the police academy, and hiring younger and more educated officers have not helped
in reforming the police in Mexico. In fact, all have been tried with virtually no success.
Respondents were unsure about the effect of hiring more female officers, using a fee-based
arrests system, or utilizing the military in law enforcement (an increasing activity in
Mexico) on reforming law enforcement in Mexico.
The vast majority of respondents suggested that current reorganization work, whatever
the type, in Mexican law enforcement is having no discernable impact on the police in
regards to crime issues. Indeed, respondents to the survey suggested that only increased
education levels of police officers has the potential to positively impact significant reforms
in Mexico. Perhaps with more education, recruits would not feel like they are forced
Table 3.

Effectiveness of police reforms in Mexico.

Police reforms
Reduce corruption
Hiring more women
Fee-based arrest system
Additional ethics training
Hiring younger officers
Hiring more college graduates
Greater use of the military

Modal response

Police Practice and Research: An International Journal

Table 4.


Factors preventing successful reform in Mexico.

Societal issue

Yes (%)

No (%)

Political corruption
Poor economy
Low skill jobs
Illegal immigration
Lack of faith in government
Police corruption



into policing, but rather would look at it as a career. Better communication skills, technology, and increased officer salaries are playing no overt role in the reformation of Mexican
law enforcement. Training, particularly on the job training, was identified for its lack of
Training [in Mexico] is not just academy training, but follow up training and accountability of
officers to do as they are trained. Failures of training are partially the responsibility of officers
but partially of managers who fail to insist on doing the job.

Another subject made clear that poor technology and poor training were linked with policing having very few effective tools to investigate and prosecute crimes.
Since the majority of current reforms are viewed as ineffective, the respondents were
asked about the fundamental societal roadblocks that would hinder reform in Mexico in the
future. Table 4 presents the responses offered in the surveys.
Our sample unanimously suggested that both political and police corruption would
prevent the success of future reforms in Mexico. Corruption is a factor in the effectiveness of police responses to crime in Mexico because the police are underpaid and have no
incentive to work toward the greater good of Mexico, or to stop crime. Being part of a
corrupt police force, they are able to better protect themselves, as well as their families.
They also have another way to provide for themselves. Also, respondents pointed to the
poor economy and the overall lack of faith in the economy as influential to curbing the
impact of police reforms. Illiteracy, low skill jobs, and illegal immigration were not
viewed as pivotal societal roadblocks to the implementation of law enforcement reforms
in Mexico.
One respondent noted that various reform attempts were likely to fail because they fail
to address the larger social context of corruption, noting:
The real question for reform is this: where is the leverage in [Mexican] society for [eliminating
corruption]. It has not happened, but it must be done, but who will do it? Reform has to start
at the top, in Mexico as anywhere, and has to be integrated into the working and managerial
habits of the police.

One thing becomes clear from this analysis that the current era of policing is perceived
as ineffective. Due to the nature of the system, reforms appear to be having little or no effect
on policing practices. If the current strategies of law enforcement are having no impact,
what does this say for the future of policing in Mexico? The next section discusses conclusions drawn from this analysis.


A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

Conclusions and discussion

This paper sought to provide some discussion of past policing methods and practices in
Mexico to predict likely success of current reforms and potential program adoption based
on well-known US community-based policing programs and practices. As such, the study
relied on responses of various policing experts from academia, the media, and government.
Our findings suggest, not surprisingly, that corruption, particularly bribes and drug
trafficker influence, permeates Mexican policing and are fuelled, at least in part, by a political and social culture that participates and implicitly and explicitly accepts corrupt activity. This result is reflecting the perspective of theorists who see corruption as the single
most import factor contributing to the persistence of organized crime, and denote a strong
connection between organized crime groups and the political structure (Schulte-Bockholt,
2006), as well as law enforcement agencies and business (Chambliss, 1988, p. 208). Our
respondents were remarkably consistent in identifying the prevalence of corruption
throughout Mexican law enforcement and the contributing role of citizens, the commonality of bribery, and the destabilizing effects of the drug cartels. As a whole, the sample also
agreed that Mexican political authorities have failed to adequately combat and control these
Further, Mexico has no choice to address the destabilizing effects of the drug cartels. No
police program or reorganization is likely to be effective when police are outgunned and
often undermined by cartel money and political influence. This effort will not be easy, but
aggressive efforts against entrenched organized crime have been successful in other countries such as Italy. But, they have required political and social will that may, at least at this
time, still be missing in Mexico.
We suggest that it may be that Mexico may have skipped an important component
before embarking on a community-based policing approach. Namely, the failure to
eliminate corruption within the police and thus failing to correct a key component to COP
communitypolice trust. Thus, we call for a Neo-COP era in Mexico. One that might still
incorporate COP approaches and philosophies but must address serious organization
reforms such as purging police agencies of rampant corruption, instilling important civil
service reforms in hiring and training, and show a willingness to combat the violence and
disorder wrought by the flow of drugs through Mexico. This will not be easy and may call
for what one respondent called a complete deconstruction of the police, its reconstruction,
and redefine their relationship with society. That is, the literal disbanding of police institutions followed by the reconstruction and reorganization of entirely new agencies. In
essence, Mexico needs its own professional era in which government authorities and
citizens substantively address the past entrenchment of institutional corruption. However,
this effort will require top-down and grassroots efforts; both the government and the
people must support and sustain reform efforts that may take generations.
1. At this time we are unaware of any empirical evidence measuring the effects of Giulianis

policies. However, the continued rising crime rate in Mexico City suggests it has had little, if any,
aggregate effect. The idea of its adoption, however, was met with considerable skepticism.

Notes on contributors
Anthony P. LaRose is a 2004 Fulbright Scholar who holds a bachelors degree in political science
from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a masters in criminal justice and a Ph.D. in Political Science: Administration of justice and applied policy studies from Washington State University.

Police Practice and Research: An International Journal


He has published numerous manuscripts in English and Spanish in the areas of international policing,
police corruption, and court processes of the US district courts. He is currently an associate professor
at the University of Tampa and a research fellow at Statistical Systems, Inc.
Sean A. Maddan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of
Tampa. His research areas include criminological theory, statistics, research methods, and the
efficacy of sex offender registration and notification laws. Articles by Dr. Maddan appear in Justice
Quarterly and the Journal of Criminal Justice. Most recently, Dr. Maddan has co-authored the text
book, Statistics in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

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Police Practice and Research: An International Journal


Survey instrument
(1) Please rank order the crimes you believe will impact Mexico the most during the next decade.
____. International terrorism (e.g., al-Qaida)
____. Kidnapping
____. Theft
____. Forcible rape
____. Automobile theft
____. Robbery
____. Burglaries
____. Narco-terrorism
____. Drugs usage
____. Juvenile delinquency
____. Arson
____. Drug trafficking
____. Prostitution
____. Homicide
____. Assaults
____. Drunk driving
____. Other ______________________
(2) Of your top 3 rankings above, how effective do you believe Mexicos police will be at combating
those problems? From 1 to 5, 1 being very effective to 5 very ineffective do you consider the
police in Mexico to deal with that issue.
Ranking #1 ____
Ranking #2 ____
Ranking #3 ____
(3) Please rank order the following factors in relation to the effectiveness of police responses to crime
in Mexico.
____. Poor training
____. Corruption
____. Bribes
____. Low salaries
____. Poor technology
____. Low education levels
____. Other _________________
(4) Please briefly explain your two top ranked issues (please use as much space as you need):




A.P. LaRose and S.A. Maddan

(5) Several efforts have been made to reform policing in Mexico. Please rate from 1 to 5, 1 very
effective to 5 very ineffective the likelihood that the following will succeed?
____. Efforts to reduce corruption
____. Hiring more women
____. Fee-based arrest system
____. Additional police academy ethics training
____. Hiring younger police officers
____. Hiring more college graduates
____. Greater use of the military in police operations
____. Other ______________________
(6) How effective would each of the following be in improving policing in Mexico? Rate from 1 to
5, 1 very likely to 5 very unlikely the likelihood that the following will succeed?
____. Increasing education levels of police officers
____. Increasing police officers communication skills
____. Increasing the use of technology
____. Raising officers salaries
____. Other _______________________
(7) How confident are you that recent police reorganization will address Mexicos most pressing
crime issues?
Very likely

Somewhat likely

No opinion

Somewhat unlikely

Very unlikely

(8) Which of the following police program(s) might be most successfully applied in Mexico? Place
an X next to as many as you believe applicable.
____. Drug Abuse Resistance Education
____. Compstat
____. Zero Tolerance
____. Problem Oriented Policing
____. Gang Resistance Education and Training
____. Other __________________________
(9) Which of the following societal issues do you feel will have the greatest impact on preventing
successful police reforms in Mexico? Place an X next to as many as you believe applicable.
____. Political corruption
____. Poor economy
____. Illiteracy
____. Large numbers of low-skilled workers
____. Illegal immigration
____. Citizen lack of faith in Mexicos government
____. Police corruption
____. Other ________________________
(10)Experts comments on the survey
Please record any comments brought to mind by filling out this survey which you believe would
be import for a follow-up phone interview to yourself and/or fellow expert.