Garcia Luna asserts that decades of neglect, mainly under the once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, left police 30 years behind in training, equipment and conduct. Now, he contends, it is time to catch up and clean up.
"The corruption in law enforcement agencies helped crime expand and began the evolution of the criminal and crime," Garcia Luna said during a recent appearance before Congress. "Police fell further behind and lost effectiveness."
A key part of the strategy is technology. Garcia Luna, who served as intelligence chief in the Federal Preventive Police and later founded the Mexican FBI under then-President Vicente Fox, is fond of saying that Mexico will prevail against drug gangs through brain work, not bullets.
"His gun was the computer, from the beginning," said Lopez Portillo, the think tank chief.
On the ground floor of a gleaming police campus in the capital, rows of uniformed federal officers tap at computers linked to bases nationwide. Above them, oversize screens receive images from cameras posted in drug-smuggling hot spots, such as Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, and along the U.S. border. The network will eventually give police in Mexico City quick access to fingerprints and other crime data from every town in the country.
U.S. officials praise Garcia Luna with a notable lack of reserve, given past letdowns.
"He wants to create -- clean the slate and create an entirely new professional force that will take the Mexican security apparatus into the 21st century," said a senior U.S. law enforcement official. "I think he's the real deal."
Critics weigh in
Most everyone agrees that Mexico cannot win the war it has declared against powerful crime organizations unless it cleans up its police, whose members often work on the criminal groups' behalf. But even a determined push probably will take years to succeed.
"The problem is, they're getting started very late," said Bruce Bagley, an international studies professor at the University of Miami. "We will not see the results for five to 10 years."
Some critics see the effort as a lot of media spin by Garcia Luna, who they say is out mainly to expand his authority.
Javier Herrera Valles, a high-ranking federal police official, was stripped of his duties this year after openly criticizing Garcia Luna.
"There is no strategy. There is no planning work. There is no intelligence," said Herrera, who had been responsible for overseeing the crime fight around the country. "The only strategy is increasing the number of personnel."
That, he and other critics say, has thrust the 5,000 federal police officers into risky operations for which they are not prepared and in which they are often outgunned. In May, eight federal officers died in Culiacan during a lengthy shootout with more powerfully armed gunmen.
An authentic effort to clean up corruption probably would please ordinary Mexicans, who tend to view the police as little more than criminals with badges.
That sentiment was captured neatly in a recent cartoon in the Reforma newspaper: Two officers, guns drawn, are poised outside a front door. One asks his partner, "Is this a rescue operation or a kidnapping?"
Officers now have to pass lie detector and psychological tests and undergo reviews of their personal finances, criminal records and family ties. Those sorts of checks are de rigueur for candidates trying to get hired in agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department.
Those tests are fine by Gerardo Avila, a 28-year-old medical school graduate who was recently interviewing for a job in the Federal Police.
Avila said he wanted to put his expertise as a surgeon to work as a police trainer.
Wearing neatly gelled hair and a dark-blue suit, Avila said the image of police could use some reconstructive surgery.
"It's an image of distrust," he said outside a recruiting tent on the new Federal Police campus.
"This is what you have to change so people have trust, whether it be to report a crime or even to help."