“We’re not even prepared to arrest a car thief”: Police in la Montaña of Guerrero – by Nayeli Roldán

~ This article was originally published by Animal Político on April 2, 2015 ~


Police in the municipalities of the La Montaña región of Guerrero know that the principal problem they face is drug trafficking, but they recognize that they are not even prepared to stop car thefts. They know that being a municipal police officer means precarious work, insufficient equipment, and struggling with the corruption and influence peddling of those above them.

Beyond their vulnerability, they are also manipulated politically because the police force is renewed every three years, with a new director and new agents hired directly by the mayors, which generates “a perception of loyalty to those who hire them, and not to the citizenry.”

Those are some of the findings of the study “Alcozauca. Being a municipal police in la montaña of Guerrero,” by the Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde), and the Civil Monitor of Police and Security Forces of la Montaña (MOCIPOL) in collaboration with the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of la Montaña and the Fundar Center for Analysis and Investigation.

As a part of this study, the investigators interviewed and met with police, leaders, and civil society organizations from Alcozauca in 2012, two years before the role of municipal police would once again come to the fore after the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa normal school in Iguala on September 26, 2014.

It has long been apparent that the ease with which organized crime infiltrates police forces is part of the complex panorama of vulnerable zones like Guerrero, and that it is a problem that has led to cases like Ayotzinapa, as well as thousands of other dead and disappeared.

The criminal groups have plenty of opportunities to offer peasants a form of subsistence through the cultivation of drugs; they also recruit “generally, youths who do not have other options,” as dealers or gangsters, according to the study.

“It is therefore a prime space for the intrusion of criminal groups, favored, moreover, by a political culture—still somewhat authoritarian—that benefits privileged cliques, who control towns according to their own interests and make corruption a cultural practice within those municipal institutions,” the document reports.

We are unprepared to arrest car thieves
In the municipality of Alcozauca there are only 33 police to guard a population of 18,971. Beyond public safety, they are tasked with serving as bodyguards for administrators of the federal [poverty reduction] program Oportunidades, maintaining and cleaning public spaces, putting out fires, emergency responses, and repairing water pipes, among other chores.

In their daily activity, they report, one of the major obstacles is the corruption of the judicial system responsible for investigations, which impedes the judicial process due to bribes.

The police comment that “what corruption means is that those we arrest offer money and are released, and our work, what was it for?” Another remarks: “For example, with the case of the police officer who was killed, we arrested his killer, but it seems he’s already out. And he’s mad about it, so we have to be careful because he might come take his revenge.”

In the surveys, the police affirmed that the principal cause of insecurity in the community is drug trafficking, but they recognize that they are not even well trained enough to combat other crimes. “We’re not even prepared to arrest a car thief, that’s what we’re supposed to do, but we’re not prepared,” they say.

Like the rest of the residents, they are afraid of what is happening in their community, as one of the respondents commented: “the family starts to get worried, and we just give ourselves over to God, because it’s the only option.”

Another explains that they lack structured protocols for training, since when they join the force they are only given one clear rule: “the first thing they told me was that I had to be disciplined. Arrive at 7, respect and obey the commander and the superiors.”

Neither are they aware of the regulations of the Police and Good Government edict that regulates their job, which is to say, they are unaware of their rights and obligations and they commit abuses against the population. The Civil Monitor of Police and Security Forces of la Montaña reports that it received 381 citizen complaints regarding various police forces between 2007 and 2011.

The study warns that as regards police treatment, “the interaction between police and citizen is a sore spot” because beating a detainee “isn’t just an abuse of human rights, but a confirmation—in some ways historical—of the citizens’ relationship with state authorities.”

The image of police in the community is therefore no longer that of a respected figure, but instead of “a feared figure, distrusted, forced to serve the interests of the mayor, of the groups in power in the town.”

At its heart, it is a story about individuals who live in a conflict between the community’s interests and themselves, “the police officer as human being cannot escape the same social conditions that determine the inequality of La Montaña and therefore of Alcozauca.”

Peasant Police
In the municipalities of la Montaña like Alcozauca, 90% of the population lives in moderate to extreme poverty, according to statistics from the National Council of Evaluation (CONEVAL), and the average education is only 3.3 years of schooling, even though 9 years is obligatory.

The municipal police form part of the same picture. They average 30 years of age, with an average education of 5.5 years, and only 8 officers had finished secondary school. Some speak indigenous languages and it is difficult for them to communicate in Spanish.

To maintain themselves economically, they must take on extra work, according to Alcozauca’s director of municipal police: “They are peasants, they need work. Unfortunately, the sources of employment in Alcozauca aren’t plentiful, and they have to look for work as masons, farmers, ranch hands, or police.”

The police don’t even have their own building, and 90% lack basic benefits such as healthcare, which has meant “a very harsh reality, since there have been serious accidents in the course of the job and the injured officers were left without care,” the study says.

Moreover, they only stay in the job at the whim of the politicians, not owing to their work, since police contracts are linked to the mayor’s administration. This means that their contracts need to be renewed every three years, not just with the arrival of a new director of Municipal Public Security. And because almost every member of the rank and file is replaced in these political turnovers, there is no possibility of becoming a career officer.

One of the respondents remarked that “Since next month there’s going to be a new mayor, those of us who aren’t part of his group are going to be leaving.” The study affirms that “this causes the police who come in with every administration to identify with the mayor or director of security. The police feel a particular loyalty to those officials, since they are grateful for for the ‘favor’ of having hired them, of having ‘given them work,’ and this loyalty is prioritized rather than a conscientious commitment to the citizenry.”

Nayeli Roldán writes for Animal Político. This article was originally published at: http://www.animalpolitico.com/2015/04/ser-policia-en-la-montana-de-guerrero-no-estamos-preparados-ni-para-detener-a-un-robacoches/

Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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