MEXICO CITY — Thirteen Mexican federal police officers are among 18 people arrested last week on suspicion of being part of a deadly kidnapping ring operating in the troubled Pacific resort city of Acapulco, government officials said Tuesday.
The arrests on Wednesday and Friday probably will do little to improve the reputation of the federal police, an agency that former President Felipe Calderon, who left office in December, had hoped in vain to transform into Mexico's most trustworthy crime-fighting force.
Nor is the news likely to improve the reputation of Acapulco, where drug cartels and other criminal gangs have helped make the former playground of Hollywood royalty the city with highest homicide rate in Mexico.
The arrests come at a time when, according to federal government figures, kidnapping and extortion are on the rise across Mexico, even as the number of homicides is declining.
During a news conference Tuesday, Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez, the federal security spokesman, put a positive spin on the matter, saying that the arrests proved the resolve of President Enrique Peña Nieto's government to act with a "firm hand" against corrupt public servants. He said that 81 federal police officers had been arrested since Peña Nieto took office 10 months ago.
"The government of the republic does not tolerate, under any circumstances, acts of corruption committed by public servants," he said. "It's lamentable that among those who have the high honor of serving the citizenry, some commit acts of treachery against the citizens they have sworn to protect."
Sanchez said the group was responsible for at least seven homicides and four kidnappings. In two of the kidnappings, he said, the victims were slain. The investigation was sparked by a citizen complaint, he said, but he offered few other details about the crimes.
The civilian suspects, Sanchez said, were four men and one woman between the ages of 24 and 35. They included Luis Miguel Gonzalez Petatan, 31, whom police identified as the ringleader. The police officers were all men, and all in their 20s and 30s except for a 51-year-old officer.
Police corruption in Mexico is notoriously widespread, and public confidence in the police is dismally low. Beginning under Calderon, the federal government has sought to solve the problem by subjecting every current police officer and potential new hire to polygraph and drug tests, investigations of personal finances and psychological evaluations.
But the tests have come under fire for being poorly administered, leading to the dismissal of some good police officers and the retention of some bad ones.
In a TV interview Tuesday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, the federal security commissioner, said he was not sure whether the arrested officers were among the 90% of the force that has already been subjected to the testing. He also acknowledged that some of the testing had been flawed, and said he hoped that lawmakers would carry through on proposals to refine the system.
"I think that there will have to be some rethinking" of the testing, he said.
Even though Calderon lavished attention on the federal police, increasing salaries and hiring more college-educated officers, some of the force's more than 38,000 officers have been involved in a number of high-profile scandals. Fourteen federal officers remain imprisoned on charges that they opened fire on an American SUV with diplomatic plates on a country road south of Mexico City in August 2012, injuring two CIA officers. Five other officers suspected of involvement remain at large.
In June of that year, a group of federal officers trying to arrest another group suspected of cocaine trafficking engaged in a firefight in the middle of the busy Mexico City airport. Three of the responding officers were killed.
On Tuesday, Mondragon, in an effort to accentuate the positive, noted that it was the federal police, in cooperation with the organized-crime unit of the federal prosecutor's office, who carried out the investigation.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times