MEXICO CITY — Mexico will have a new 10,000-member security force that will be deployed to regions of the troubled country where violence and instability are greatest, President Enrique Peña Nieto said Monday.
The president said at a meeting of the National Public Security Council that the force would consist of 10,000 members to start, though he did not say when it would be created. For the time being, the military will remain in the streets in an effort to maintain order. The federal police will add 15 units that will focus solely on kidnapping and extortion, he said.
"This is the beginning of a relationship of respect and responsibility to achieve the justice and peace that our country demands," said Peña Nieto, who took office Dec. 1. "Mexicans want a Mexico at peace and demand respect, and respect for human rights."
Peña Nieto pledged during his election campaign to create the security force as a way to differentiate his strategy from that of former President Felipe Calderon, whose aggressive war against drug-trafficking organizations resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.
He has promised to focus on reducing the violence that affects everyday citizens. At the same time, his government is trying to downplay the struggle against drug trafficking and focus more on economic matters. Notably absent from the president's speech Monday were any references to drug cartels or organized crime.
Calderon spent millions trying to strengthen and clean up the federal police, adding thousands of officers and increasing salaries. But recent incidents, including an attack on CIA officers in August, have raised questions about the trustworthiness of the 36,000-member force.
Peña Nieto has already essentially demoted the federal police in a government restructuring. According to an advisor who helped prepare the new security plan, the new security force, which will be referred to as a gendarmerie, will draw in part on former federal officers who lose their jobs in the shake-up.
The advisor, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan, said the gendarmerie would be responsible primarily for basic law enforcement duties such as patrolling roads and cities. The federal police will focus more on investigations, he said.
The separation of those two fundamental tasks is aimed at reducing the potential for corruption that arises when the same law enforcement officials are in charge of both patrolling and arresting and then building the legal case, the advisor said.
Alejandro Hope, security director of the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, a Mexico City think tank, said he worried about the time it would take to create a force when Mexico faces so many pressing challenges. He said that interagency squabbling also seemed likely.
"Within a year, everybody's going to be talking about the conflict between the gendarmerie and the federal police," he said.
Peña Nieto said he would also create a national human rights program. An Amnesty International report in October accused the Mexican government of ignoring an increase in reported instances of torture and abuse by security forces deployed to fight the drug cartels.
Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.