MEXICO CITY – Five years and millions of U.S.-supplied dollars later, Mexican authorities are acknowledging they are still a long way from purging and improving local and federal police forces, among the most corrupt institutions in the country.
The deadline for certifying hundreds of thousands of police nationwide -- already blown once -- is Oct. 29. This week, the government said the process will not be completed by that date and suggested there should not be a deadline at all.
“We will never reach 100%; it’s impossible,” Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the nation’s top security official, said at a forum on public safety. He acknowledged that the system used to evaluate police was flawed and would be changed.
Overhauling the police has been a centerpiece of government security strategies and one of the most important components of a nearly $2-billion U.S. aid package. As part of a program created in 2008, Mexico’s half a million police officers are to be tested and vetted based on numerous criteria including financial information, trustworthiness, family connections and skills.
But officials said more than a quarter of state and local police officers have yet to be examined. And there have been many complaints that the testing, which includes controversial polygraphs, fails to weed out all the bad and sometimes incorrectly entraps the good.
And even where the vetting is nearly complete, as in the federal police force, continued incidents of serious criminal activity by members of that very group undermine confidence in the process.
As of May, fewer than one-third of the 36,000 federal, state and local officers who failed had been fired, as is required, in part because local governments said they didn’t have enough money to pay legally required severance.
Speaking at the same forum with Osorio Chong, and with President Enrique Peña Nieto in the audience, the head of a citizen police watchdog group delivered a severe scolding of the government’s vetting efforts, which were begun in the previous administration under then-President Felipe Calderon.
“Security and justice, which should be a priority in any government, are the unpaid debt,” said Maria Elena Morera, president of the group Common Cause. “We are tired of doubting, tired of waiting. Many families are tired of suffering.
“Mexicans, Mr. President,” Morera continued, addressing Peña Nieto directly, “are tired of being afraid.”
Although homicides are continuing a yearlong, gradual decline after record-high numbers, kidnappings and extortion in Mexico continue to increase, afflicting thousands of people.
“Reality is not resolved by closing the eyes; one cannot reassure people by shielding oneself in surveys,” Morera added, in a possible dig at the Peña government’s attempts to keep crime news out of the headlines.
It will now be up to the Mexican Congress to extend the deadline for vetting the police, or do away with a time limit altogether.
“The conditions have proven more complex than what was foreseen,” Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, a senior official with the National Public Security System, told reporters.
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