And Then Comes the Inevitable Let Down
Dirty Cops Bring My Opinion of Mexico Back Down to Earth
Author's preface: Apologies for the delay in publishing this follow up to my Thank You Mexico post. In that article I mentioned a follow up piece, and, if you are reading this, I have finally completed and published it. It would have been done at least a week ago if not for a technical hiccup with the Vocal website which resulted in my (very long) draft getting somehow deleted. I was furious and greatly dismayed as I had spent many hours working the piece which included no small bit of web research on the subject of Mexican law enforcement. I was so discouraged that I put the whole project on hold until I could regain my composure on the topic. This version does not go into as much depth as the original which is sad, but I just could not bring myself to recreate all that work. I have a big aversion to backtracking when hiking or driving, and I guess that carries over into my writing as well. My feeling is if you have already passed a spot going in one direction, passing the same spot going the other way is a complete waste of time, and will result in you missing out on whatever adventure might await if you had gone a totally different way. I did go a slighty different way this time though ended up in pretty much the same place in the end. As always when I post on the topic of Mexico, recognize that what I say may only apply to the (very small) part of Mexico in which I operate, the northern portion of the state of Baja, California very near the Southern border of California in the United States. Enjoy!
Introduction and Background
Lest you think I am some Mexican government hired propagandist, or soft hearted polyanna, after my last post on the topic of Mexico (linked above); I bring to you the follow up piece which highlights one of the dark sides of Mexico, dirty police, using their position of power and authority to extort people for money. (That was a mouthful right? Run on sentence or not? I feel my use of the semi-colon was correct if not necessarily grammatically appopriate. lol!). On a recent Sunday morning my wife and I were pulled over and extorted for money by the Policia Municipal in the Mexican state of Baja, California, just north of the city of Rosarito on our way to a coffee shop we frequent. We were involved in an animated discussion and totally missed the turn for the cafe necessitating a U-turn to get us back on track. The section of road on which we traveled, the hybrid local road/insterstate known as 1D-The Libre, is one where making U-turns is quite common, and they are allowed at more intersections than not. My wife was driving and she promptly made a U-turn at one such intersection where it is very common and definitely not prohibited as evidenced by the line of cars in front of us that also made U-turns immediately prior to our own. Due to our continuing animated discussion my wife was slightly distracted and did pull out a bit in front of oncoming traffic resulting in one car having to brake (but not slam on the brakes) in order to allow us to complete the turn. An unluckily placed (from our perspective) Policia Municipal car saw this and promptly pulled us over. I will admit to quite a bit of nervousness, and I saw the same in my wife. In any interaction with law enforcement, as a civilian you are at a distinct power disadvantage. As an expat in a foreign country in which you are a guest resident, that power differential is magnified a hundred fold. The stakes are very, very high in such an encounter. A wrong move could result in your expulsion from the country or worse.
Mexican Law Enforcement System
For those who are not aware law enforcement in Mexico is a multi-layered system consisting of a mix of military and pseudomilitary/civilian authorities. Essentially there are four main levels and one sub-level. The idea is that the levels police each other with the most honest and trustworthy layer, the Mexican regular military, sitting at the top of the food chain. They are generally viewed as uncorrupatble and that reputation seems well earned and deserved though rumors of military/drug cartel alliances are never ending. One layer beneath that lies the Guardia National. The National Guard of Mexico is a civil public security institution that functions as Mexico's national gendarmerie force, and serves as the national police of the United States of Mexico. It is a decentralized body, which was formed by absorbing units and officers from the Federal Police, Military Police, and Naval Police. It is a relatively new institution, only existing since 2019, when it was created by decree, as part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador 's strategy to combat organized crime in the country. Later a reform package approved in the Mexican Congress transferred command of the National Guard directly to the Mexican Army. The Guardia National also have a generally good reputation in terms of ethics and honesty, and corruption (at least of the visible, on the ground sort) has not been a major problem to date. Just below the National Guard comes the Policia Municipal (municipal police), the institution with which my wife and I had the encounter which served as the genesis of this story. They can be thought of as the equivalent of local city or state cops, and their reputation is decidely mixed when it comes to ethical behavior. Clearly, based on my own recent experience which I describe herein, that mixed reputation is well deserved. The lowest layer would be the Turistica. These "police" have a presence in Tijuana but are rarely seen where I live south of the city and, as the name suggests, generally concern themselves with policing tourists. This mostly consists of pulling over and extorting unlucky tourists for money for often totally made up or trumped up traffic offenses. The sub-level that I mentioned is also a large and significant, and that is the huge variety of private security forces that operate throughout the country. These private forces can function as neighborhood level law enforcement, or bouncers at resteraunts, or security at public events, or any number of other activities where fear of crime or violence prevails. My own neighborhood in Mexico has a private security force that mans the entry/exit gates, patrols the streets and beaches, and sometimes helps with repairs or public construction. (Some) private security forces are legally authorized to carry weapons and all tend to dress in military-esque attire with bulletproof vests and fatigues quite commonly seen. In case you were wondering the Guardia National are a heavily armed force and can be seen rolling around the country in armored trucks in full military regalia with balaclavas and bulletproof vests and rifles at the ready. They are a fairly intimidating presence though to date the only action I have seen them engage in is helping stranded motorists on the side of the road. The regular Mexicn military units take the intimidation factor up a notch, often riding around in heavily armored APCs with very large mounted weapons on board.
I peered through the rear view mirror at the two municipal police officers that emerged from the car that had pulled us over. They were both male but beyond that they could not have appeared more different. The driver looked to fit the part, wearing what seemed to be a standard uniform of the type I had seen on other muncipal police, but the other "police" officer wore what looked to me like a Halloween outfit version of a uniform complete with an obviously fake sewn on or plastic badge. Officer number 1 (the real cop) approached the drivers side as my wife rolled down her window. Meanwhile, Officer McFakey moved to the passenger side. The idea crossed my mind to pull out my phone and attempt to record the encounter surreptiously, but that thought was quickly put to rest as McFakington had his eyes locked on me the entire time. My guess is he was looking to prevent just such a move. Caution being the better part of valor I decided to keep still and quiet and simply observe and commit to memory whatever I could. In broken Spanish, my wife began to apologize for the U-turn, but before she could say more than a few words the officer cut her off saying in near perfect English, "I am going to have to give you a ticket, but I can't give you a receipt. If you want a reciept you are going to need to follow me to the station." This is a commonly used tactic by crooked cops in Mexico and it is very effective. After all, who in their right mind, especially as an expat in a foreign country is going to say, OK, I will follow you to the police station, when presented with such an option. My wife was no exception and replied with "I don't need a receipt so how much is it if I pay you here." At this point the officer took a step back, mumbled something I couldn't make out to his partner, McFakington, than returned to the window and said "two thousand five hundred pesos." Twenty five hundred pesos was not a ton of money, about $130 US dollars. It would hurt but seemed a reasonable amount for an "infraction" of the sort we had committed, which was not any at all. My wife and I both pulled out our wallets but between the two of us could only come up with 1100 pesos. "This is all we have." she said to the officer, then added helpfully "We could follow you to an ATM and withdraw the rest." The policeman looked unhappy, stepped away again said something to his partner I could not make out then returned to the window. "I am going to have to call the judge and see about this." Now, I know Mexico is not the United States, but I do not know many judges in the US that are working at 7am on a Sunday morning and sitting by their phones waiting to take calls from random city police officers, so I call total bullshit on that, but whatever. He said he had to call the judge, what were we gonna do about it, but sit there and wait? He walked slowly back to his car and returned not more than 30 seconds later. "OK. Put the money in the registration and hand it over." My wife proceeded to hand him the money and the registration thinking that was what he wanted. "No. Put the money in the registration, fold it over." He clearly did not want to take any chances with cameras or other observers seeing money being handed over on the side of the street. Nobody wants to be seen being crooked I guess. My wife promptly did as he had indicated handing him our 1100 pesos hidden inside the folded up car registration. After going back to his car one last time, this time with Ronald FakeDonald at his side, he returned one last time to exchange a few pleasentries, and to kindly help us locate the cafe to which we were headed. We declined his offer and slowly pulled away. In the end the episode ended without much of a hit in either time or money for myself or my wife. The entire encounter lasted less than 15 minutes and cost us about 60 US dollars. The cost to the country of Mexico however was considerably greater. They lost a big chunk of my respect and admiration, and inspired me to write this story which will have additional negative ramifications. I dont claim to have any special influence, and definitely dont get many page views for the things I write, but I do have some and I do get a few. Enough people like me thinking and writing like this and it wrecks the reputation of the entire country of Mexico. A great example of just how toxic law enforcement corruption can be at every level, and the reason Mexico has been doing everything it can to stamp it out. Clearly, it still has some room for improvement in that area.
About the Creator
Practicing mage of the natural sciences (Ph.D. micro/mol bio), Thought middle manager, Everyday Junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, No tie shoelace user, Humorist, Argan oil aficionado. Occasional LinkedIn & Facebook user
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