When violent crime began to increase in Baja California Sur in 2014, the state’s security forces were hopelessly unprepared to combat it, leaving them virtually defenseless against the scourge.
That’s the view shared by security analysts, civil society and both state and federal authorities, all of whom recognize that the same security shortcomings also made it easy for criminal gangs to establish a presence in the state.
A security official from state capital La Paz who spoke to the newspaper El Universal on condition of anonymity said that the state’s police remain both ineffective and unresponsive to violent crime.
“Our police don’t know how to handle a confrontation. Police from La Paz don’t know what to shoot at, how to hide, how to protect people or how to cordon off an area to provide support,” he said.
“If there is a clash . . . the police are simply not going to arrive, they’ll leave them, because they don’t know [what to do], they haven’t had any ongoing training program in [crime] response, prevention and investigation,” he added.
According to the non-governmental organization Causa en Común, police in Baja California Sur lag behind forces in every other state in the country in terms of training and professionalism.
In a study published in November, the organization pointed to shortcomings of the state’s police academy including the absence of a shooting range, driving track and facilities to carry out tactical training.
State governor Carlos Mendoza committed to having a new facility completed by the end of last year but it has not yet materialized.
In addition, Causa en Común said that police recruits had revealed that they had to pay for their uniforms and other expenses out of their own pockets and that their superiors often sent them on personal errands.
After two criminal groups faced off in a shootout in the state that left three people dead in July 2014, two things became immediately clear to the local population: organized crime had infiltrated the state and municipal and state police were not prepared to deal with it.
Statistics from the National Public Security System confirm those initial fears.
There were 126 homicides in the state in 2014 but that number almost doubled to 226 the following year. The figure reached 281 in 2016 before surging to a total of 701 murders last year. Only Colima recorded a higher per-capita homicide rate in 2017.
The number of homicides has increased so dramatically since 2014 that a new cemetery had to be built in La Paz.
But although the growing violence problem was clear to citizens, authorities were slow to react and it wasn’t until November 2016 that the first federal tactical and intelligence forces arrived in La Paz.
During a visit to Baja California Sur the same month, then interior secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said the state had practically started from zero in terms of its response to increasing levels of violent crime.
“There was no anti-kidnapping agency, there was nowhere to train police, it was thought that nothing ever happened in La Paz and nothing was ever going to happen,” he said at the time.
Finally, last month National Security Commissioner Renato Sales announced that 5,000 additional Federal Police officers would be deployed to “key cities” in the country including the popular tourism destinations of Los Cabos and La Paz.
However, the director of the National Citizens’ Observatory stressed that the presence of federal forces would not alone solve the problem.
Francisco Rivas also said that the organization had warned authorities since 2014 of an imminent security crisis but they failed to heed the warning and implement a security strategy that works.
Adding to Baja California Sur’s problems, there is a shortage of crime scene investigators to solve cases and the state’s medical emergency services are also severely inadequate.
Groups of volunteers or private companies respond to 90% of emergency calls that are made in the state and the state government only has one rescue aircraft and just five Civil Protection ambulances.
The leader of one group of volunteers that has been responding to emergencies in La Paz since 1999 attributed the situation to inaction and apathy on the part of successive governments.
“No government has been concerned about emergency attention,” Juan Alfonso Lamarque said, adding that the group has to do its own fundraising to cover the majority of its costs.
All of the state’s morgues — with the exception of the one in Los Cabos which was built last year — are also outdated and lack the space required to cope with the increasing number of bodies they are receiving.
Faced with the threat crime poses to the tourism-oriented state’s economy, the business community in Los Cabos last month pledged 140 million pesos to build new military barracks in the popular tourism destination.
Source: El Universal (sp)