Friday, March 11, 2016

Mexico Public Security: Four Problems with Single State Police Command

AnimalPolitico: Guillermo Vázquez del Mercado Almada
Translated by Alexander Graham

According to the National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security (ENVIPE), insecurity and crime are the two main concerns of the Mexican people (ENVIPE, 2015). The report found that 58% of respondents placed the aforementioned concerns as being more important than either unemployment or inflation. It also revealed that in a third of Mexican homes at least one inhabitant has been a victim of crime, which translates to 22.8 million victims and 33.7 million crimes committed in 2014 alone.

In order to deal with this feeling of insecurity, but mainly in favor of facilitating coordination between the federal, state, and municipal governments to combat homicide, kidnapping and extortion rates, last December the President sent a draft bill to Congress for debate which
“proposes to amend Article 21 of the Mexican Constitution in order to establish Public Security as a responsibility of the federal government and the states, in which municipalities will be involved, within the limits of their capabilities, only in the design and implementation of public policies aimed at the prevention of crime without police intervention”.
In particular, the proposal suggests the substitution of 1,800 municipal police bodies with 32 security institutions, one in each state. The initiative seeks to address the urgent need for public safety by shaking
“the very foundations upon which the Police was founded” so that “Mexican families may leave their homes, safe in the knowledge that they have professional and trustworthy officers nearby whose main interests are their safety.”
Nevertheless, there exists at least four problems with this idea.

First: it appears that what it wants to do is substitute 1,800 small and corrupt municipal police bodies, with 32 larger, and still corrupt state police institutions.

By entrusting police duties to each state, it is assumed that the state police have adequate institutional capabilities and, above all, that they have the public’s trust. The 2015 National Survey generated some interesting figures in this respect: 73.2% of respondents do not feel secure in their state; 63.6% believe the state police to be corrupt, only three percentage points below the municipal police figure; and barely 42.5% of citizens have confidence in their state police, that is, only 6 percentage points above their trust in their municipal police.

The recent actions of the Veracruz State Police exemplify the abovementioned statistics, given that there appears to be evidence of their involvement in the disappearance of five young people in Tierra Blanca. What’s more, the Veracruz State Police have demonstrated serious shortcomings in the curtailing of the increasing amount of street and public transport robberies which, according to the Survey, are the crimes which most affect the citizens of Veracruz.

Second: The proposed legislation doesn’t clearly define which police model should be implemented as part of the vast restructuring required for this initiative. In particular, there is no indication as to how the centralization of the Police at a state level will reconcile with the need for a community policing approach. This concern has already surfaced and caused issues in some states.

So, in order to approve a Single State Police Command in all 32 states, one of the challenges facing these institutions will be to reconcile a tactical focus on police response time, useful in areas with a high degree of organized crime, (but also in order to deal with ordinary crimes or other felonies such as domestic abuse or administrative infractions), with a focus on community policing, which, as evidenced by other cases all over the world, facilitates greater confidence in the police.
Community Police: also known as neighborhood or quadrant police is a philosophy that permeates all police institutions. It aims to decentralize decision-making, with active involvement from citizens, to solve community problems.
Third: To achieve unification, the state governments, in coordination with the Secretariat of Public Security (SESNSP), will carry out an assessment and draw up a proposed transition schedule for the new model, following the established guidelines set out in the General National Public Security System Act. In other words, it doesn’t consider an institutional reengineering of either police functions or institutions.

Given the sheer magnitude of the proposal at hand, it would be expected that fundamental working principles and minimum professional standards which the new police departments must adhere are to be established. In particular:
  • full respect for human rights; 
  • police operations interdependent of political intervention; 
  • community policing as an institutional philosophy to facilitate trust and collaboration between the police and citizens; 
  • definition of national standards for police development to allow professional, merit-based, and transparent operation, in addition to working hours and equipment that optimize performance; 
  • internal and external accountability systems to supervise police actions as well those of the departments as a whole, with clear cut sanctions for both in the case of neglect of duty or crimes; 
  • clear recruitment and training schemes, and clear work contracts, as well as compensation and benefits that dignify the police profession.
Fourth: The final problem with the Single State Police Command is purely conceptual. If indeed its aim is to shake the very foundations upon which the Police Force was built and to allow Mexican families to safely leave their homes, it might be time to stop considering citizen’s security as a public service provided by the State solely to uphold law and order. Taking into account the proposed citizen security becomes its main focus. This would make citizens and their needs the Mexican Police’s raison d’etre and would require the joint responsibility of the authorities and civil society (NGO’s, the private sector, academia and citizens).

The increasing crime rate[1], the high levels of perceived insecurity that we Mexicans feel, as well as the distrust that we have in our police should be reason enough to motivate true police reform through the Single State Police Command. Its objective should be more than just unifying as a means to for better coordination. It should be a rebirth of the police, with its main focus now being on the security of the citizens under its care as well as full respect for human rights and the rule of law. Only this way can we, the citizens begin to trust in our police and begin to collaborate with them in the hopes of together creating safer communities to live in.

[1] National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security (ENVIPE) states that in the last 5 years the crime rate per every 100,000 inhabitants has risen from 23.1 to 33.7. Moreover, the number of victims has gone from 18.1 to 22.8 million. Spanish original

* Guillermo Vázquez del Mercado Almada is a consultant in citizen security. @gmovma