The Crime Structure Of México

By Richard N. Baldwin T. /
September 8, 2005

President Fox proudly proclaims that the crime rate in México is dropping and complains about the perception north of the border that México is a lawless country, but let’s look at reality here. Assume that the reported crime rates are dropping but see what Mexicans feel about the structure of law and order in México.

In a column by Kelly Arthur Garrett of The Herald México recently, he recounts some things that are well known about crime in México. He quotes Rafael Ruiz Harrell, a respected criminologist; “Crime can go down as much as you want and the population . . . will still feel a lack of security as long as reporting a crime takes four hours (or all day) and then nothing happens anyway.” Getting into numbers, no more than 20% of crimes are even reported! And over half of those reported are incorrectly reported, many to the wrong police office (we have so many types of police), paperwork mistakes and so on. The actual process can take hours and hours until you finally give up in the wee hours of the morning. So, out of every 1,000 crimes, 117 crimes get actually reported. And due to paperwork mistakes, only 12 of these are even investigated. The bottom line is that out of 1,000 crimes committed, there is only one conviction. Not bad odds for contemplating a life of crime here. These figures are not new, and have been the case for a long time. But let’s look at this from the people’s perspective. There is more to this than cold numbers.

For the past few years a new style of kidnapping has been practiced called “express” kidnapping. The victim is taken hostage (usually after coming out of a bank) and is forced to go to one ATM after another and withdraw all his funds from his credit and debit cards. Then he is let go in a remote neighborhood. The interesting thing in the reports is that the many victims see a police car in the area in clear view when he is taken for his ride. And the government tells us that some of arrested kidnappers are former and sometimes even active police.

A while back, there was an assault on a manufacturing plant not too far from where I live. It ended up with one of the guards being shot and killed. The getaway was clean. With a corpse on the premises, you have no choice in reporting the crime. But when the police did come, they were more interested in shaking down the plant owner than catching the robbers. After bringing up all kinds of spurious charges against the owner and threatening the owner to shut down the plant for days to “investigate”, the police relented . . . after receiving a fat “gratuity”. The plant owner wondered who were the biggest threats to him, the robbers or the police. Could it be that they were one and the same?

In another case, a man discovered that his wife and one of his children had been kidnapped on returning home from work. This man is not a rich man by any means, a midlevel manager in an industrial plant. Then he received the phone calls demanding money. The kidnappers were good and ran him ragged with constantly changing instructions on how and where to pay for the release of his wife and child. But in the process, he made a mistake. He reported the crime to the police. Finally, he received instructions to bring cash for the release of the victims. After negotiations, the amount was reduced from $5,000.00 (USD) to $2,700.00. With this in hand, he went to the pick up point. The money was paid and the two victims were released unharmed. But there were some interesting things about that process. For one, the kidnappers were clearly visible and did not hide their faces. Maybe they felt they had total impunity? Even more interesting is that three police cars were parked nearby observing the proceedings . . . but doing nothing.

The man’s problems were not over. Although both victims were released unharmed, he still had the police to reckon with. He reported a crime. And he was required to pay the police for doing nothing. And you wonder why so little crime gets officially reported?

The police also had a neat way to prevent any complaints about their behavior in this matter. I cannot go into details, but there is no way for the man to take this any further.

If this seems strange, it is the system. If you are involved in a traffic accident, and it is reported, all involved have to pay a “fee”. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, you all pay.

What we are talking about here are real people, and how the established legal and enforcement system in México treats them. In the meantime, Fox has the temerity to complain about how Mexicans in the US are treated. When someone suggested that the above kidnapping victim should go to the National Human Rights Commission and report this, we must realize that while the commission complains frequently about human rights violations here, they have no real power and are routinely ignored. In other words, they are just window dressing to brag about to the rest of the world. But the Mexican people know better.

As Garrett pointed out, “A hopelessly inefficient judicial system in one reason that crime reigns today.”

While the present administration loudly proclaimed sweeping changes before assuming office, they also proved to be totally inept at actually doing something. It is also interesting to note that up to now, only one potential presidential candidate has made any mention of law and enforcement reform saying that criminality has taken hold of many police forces. And he is not one of the leading candidates.

As pointed out last week about the Pew survey, one of the driving forces behind Mexicans fleeing their country is “. . . quality of life and law and order”. Or in other words, the lack of.

I am wondering if Tony Garza, US ambassador to México, is going to declare the entire country of México as a danger zone.
Richard N. Baldwin T., a ( contributing columnist, lives in Tlalnepantla, Edo de México. E-mail at: [email protected]