Tijuana police abandon posts
The municipal police force in this troubled border city walked off the job Thursday after soldiers and federal agents ordered its members to turn over their weapons in connection with homicide investigations.
The surprising turn of events came two days after Mexican President Felipe Calderon dispatched 3,300 federal troops and police to the city in an effort to combat violence linked to drug cartels.
Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon acknowledged in a radio interview Thursday that local and state police were being compromised by narco-traffickers, and he said government salaries could not compete with the financial rewards offered by drug dealers.
Members of the 2,300-strong police force turned over more than 2,100 guns and semiautomatic assault rifles at police headquarters. But police officials decided it would be too dangerous to patrol unarmed, especially because more than a dozen officers have been killed recently in drug-related attacks.
“The police are not patrolling the city. They won’t work without their weapons,” said Fernando Bojorquez, a spokesman for the city’s top police official, Secretary of Public Safety Luis Javier Algorri Franco.
Among those whose weapons were taken were the bodyguards for the mayor and for Algorri, a civilian who does not carry a weapon.
A spokesman for the federal attorney general said the military had ordered the confiscation of the police weapons to investigate whether any had been used in suspicious killings. He gave no details.
It was not immediately known how many homicides the federal officials were investigating. More than 300 people were killed in the city in 2006.
Police walked out late in the afternoon, and no major disturbances had been reported by late evening.
The soldiers and federal agents set up checkpoints Thursday across the city and began patrolling downtown, the Zona Rio commercial district and some tough neighborhoods.
Dozens of disarmed officers remained outside City Hall after 9 p.m., eating chicken tacos and wondering what would happen next.
The next shift, due in at 7 a.m., was ordered to report to the plaza, and police will remain there until their weapons are returned, Bojorquez said.
“We’re defenseless against organized crime. Without our weapons, we can’t do anything,” said one officer, who declined to be identified.
It appeared that municipal police were still on duty at jails.
Tijuana and the surrounding communities are a key battleground for control of drug smuggling routes into the United States. The city and the state of Baja California have suffered increased kidnappings and killings of drug traffickers, police officers, business owners and bystanders.
The federal enforcement effort, dubbed Operation Tijuana, comes three weeks after Calderon sent troops to his Pacific Coast home state of Michoacan, where more than 80 people were arrested, more than 1,300 acres of marijuana crops were destroyed and over 6 tons of harvested plants were seized.
Calderon has said that federal forces are needed to combat Mexico’s drug violence because of corruption and incompetence among local and state police.
In a television interview Thursday, federal Atty. Gen. Eduardo Medina Mora said: “The object of this type of operation is not the surgical capture of big leaders. Sure, we’re going after the big capos, but that’s not the purpose of this kind of operation, which in this case is the recovery of geography and tranquillity.”
Medina Mora said Calderon’s campaign against drug violence would move to other states in coming weeks.
Times staff writer Sam Enriquez in Mexico City contributed to this report.