Mérida is one of the safest cities in Mexico, according to official crime figures, and residents of the Yucatán capital are determined to keep it that way.
The number of neighborhood police committees — made up of citizens who donate their time to patrol the streets — has grown exponentially over the past few months and there are now around 2,300 such groups dedicated to keeping the city safe.
Last year, there were only about 500, according to the state government, which means there has been a 360% increase in the space of a single year.
There are now an estimated 11,500 community guards on the beat, almost triple the number of formal police officers deployed across the entire state.
One community police member from the neighborhood of San José Vergel told the newspaper Milenio that his group’s aim is to deter and report crime to official authorities rather than try to directly combat it themselves.
“We’re not a group of confrontation or aggression,” said the resident, identified only as Rafael.
Every night he and a group of his neighbors put on white t-shirt uniforms to discuss and monitor the goings-on in the area, equipped with flashlights, whistles and a direct line to the local police commander.
“. . . The government tells us, if you see something bad, let us know and we’ll deal with it,” Rafael said.
The state government’s general secretary believes that the rapid growth of the community-based groups can be at least partially attributed to an increase in the city’s population, with residents determined to ensure that people moving into Mérida from other states don’t upset the city’s enviable security situation.
“A lot of people are coming to live in Yucatán and the spirit of creating the committees is to maintain neighbors’ relationships and create community,“ Roberto Rodríguez Asaf said.
However, he stressed that community police “don’t replace the work of the [official] police.”
In the neighborhood of Mayapán, the members of another neighborhood police group use the messaging service WhatsApp to communicate and alert each other of any suspicious activity in the streets.
In the few months since it formed, it has managed to scare off drug dealers from the neighborhood, the group’s leader explained.
“There was a lot of vandalism, drugs were sold on that corner,” María Cua told Milenio.
“Instead, seeing that there is more vigilance and that we have our [own] police group, they have decided to respect us as residents and to respect our streets,” she said.
In the first nine months of 2017 there were 19 intentional homicides in Mérida, a figure well below other cities of comparable size, while there were just 31 extortion cases in the whole state, according to statistics from the National Public Security System.
According to the most recent National Victims Survey carried out by federal statistics agency Inegi, almost three-quarters of Yucatán residents have a positive perception of the state’s police, almost 20 points higher than the national average.
National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia said during a recent visit to the city that its neighborhood police were an example for the country in crime prevention and creating links between citizens and authorities in support of security.
Source: Milenio (sp)