Following a deadly ambush of state police officers last week, security authorities in Veracruz disbanded the Orizaba police department Saturday in a surprise move.
Orizaba Mayor Igor Rojí, who said he had not been informed beforehand, told the newspaper La Jornada that about 120 state police officers have been assigned to Orizaba indefinitely.
Ministry authorities, who took local officers into temporary custody for questioning and inspection at state facilities in Xalapa, said they were investigating whether any had been complicit in the ambush and determine whether any of the officers had links to organized crime.
According to the newspaper Proceso, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is suspected to have ties to the attack, in which three police were killed.
“We inform Orizaba citizens that their security is guaranteed, now that the Ministry of Security will maintain aerial and land patrols, strengthening the combat against impunity and crime,” the ministry said in a statement.
Three state police officers, including Rita Cecilia Romero Vicon, 24, a newly graduated officer from the El Lencero police academy in Xalapa, died in the attack. An additional officer survived but remains in serious condition.
According to La Jornada, the deaths almost immediately triggered tension in Orizaba over the next three days as state authorities in the area conducted impromptu searches of municipal police officers’ homes and there were clashes between state and municipal officers.
Early Saturday morning, state authorities arrested two municipal officers, one of whom was a commander, and then began the process of disbanding the department, confiscating weapons and patrol cars, as well as detaining 40 local officers.
This set off a reaction by around 60 other officers on the force, who barricaded themselves in the local municipal palace, saying they wanted guarantees of safety before turning themselves over to state authorities. They claimed to know of cases in which officers had been taken into custody by state officials and “had not returned.”
Mayor Rojí eventually convinced the officers to turn themselves in with promise that the local government would take charge of the officers’ transportation to Xalapa and that they would continue to be paid their salaries.
In addition, the officers demanded guarantees of their families’ safety as well as the firing of a local official and a police commander, whose whereabouts, according to Rojí, are currently unknown.