Army to clean up Mexico's lawless policemen

There is a black joke in Mexico that goes: "If you get raped, don't call the police, unless you want to be raped again."

Particularly in the sprawling capital, Mexico City, known locally as the Federal District, the police have long been considered as much of a threat to the public as the regular professional criminals.

Rape and torture are common, corruption endemic. Eliciting mordidas (bribes) instead of issuing tickets has always been seen as a perk for the poorly paid, badly trained men - and now women - on the beat.

So common was the system that the police rarely had to ask. Mexicans would pre-empt the bribe request with a phrase known as the pa'chesco: "Officer, perhaps we could settle this on the spot. Could I offer you and your partner a refreshment?"

Now, after a record year for crime in the capital - an average 600 serious crimes a day, the worst since the 1910-17 revolution - President Ernesto Zedillo has taken drastic action. He sacked the city's civilian police chief and replaced him with one of the country's toughest army officers, General Enrique Salgado Cordero.

General Salgado is not the first military officer to run the capital's 30,000-member police in times of soaring crime. But his appointment of a dozen other generals and nine colonels to head major precincts, each bringing in their own military staff, was unprecedented. It brought strong criticism, mostly from leftist opposition politicians, that President Zedillo was "militarising" the city of more than 20 million people.

At his first press briefing this week, in a brand new police uniform but with army insignia, General Salgado said he had found the city police "in a state of virtual abandon" and riddled with corruption from the top down.

"I found a force with a wrong and selfish attitude and a tendency towards extortion, often because of exploitation by corrupt senior officers," he said. That appeared to be a reference to the "pyramid" system under which beat and patrol officers - currently earning around 24,000 pesos (about pounds 2,000 a year) - pay what amount to bribes to their superiors, who in turn pay theirs, making the senior officer a very wealthy man.

Beat officers, for example, often have to pay for their own uniforms and hire their own guns, even the bullets, on a daily basis from the sergeant. Those on patrol have to pay "rental" for their cars, the assumption being that their day's bribes will easily cover the cost.

Paralleling Mexico's political system, senior police officers traditionally "bought" the most lucrative posts, an example which filtered down to the lower ranks. A traffic officer, for example, would pay for a particularly rewarding spot at a confusing traffic junction where tourists were liable to miss the red light.

Apart from the almost-daily bank robberies, when police bank guards often happen to be looking the other way, Mexico City residents are concerned by spiralling rates of mugging and highway robbery. Expensive watches are snatched from female drivers in residential areas. The less wealthy are robbed by armed gangs who board the city's "microbuses".

Neither papal nor presidential connections bring immunity. The papal nuncio, Jeronimo Prigione, had his car stolen. President Zedillo's son escaped an attempted kidnap or robbery. Last October, while a committee was debating crime, six armed men strolled into the Mexican parliament building and walked out with the parliamentary staff payroll - around pounds 150,000.

General Salgado pledged to slash the crime figures by next year, saying a "blitz" on police corruption would be the first step. As part of a 22- point anti-crime plan, he said that a data bank, similar to those used to track criminals, would be created to list the record of every police officer. Those with persistent complaints against them would be kicked off the force or prosecuted.

The general also said that he would take hundreds of officers off bank sentry duty to patrol tourist zones or crime-ridden suburbs. It was not uncommon to see a police bank guard prop his shotgun against a tree while parking or guarding customers' cars. For a small refreshment, of course.

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried