The northern border state of Tamaulipas, where drug gang warfare escalated last week in the city of Reynosa, has a significant shortage of police officers but finding new and suitable recruits is proving to be no easy task.
There are currently 2,700 accredited state officers patrolling the 43 municipalities but in a state with serious security issues many more are needed — some 7,000 in the view of the governor.
Authorities have encountered two main barriers to recruitment.
Firstly, drug cartel violence dissuades many would-be recruits from applying in the first place and second, only 30% of those who do apply pass the rigorous entry examinations.
Consequently, authorities have widened their recruitment efforts to other states with Mexico City, the State of México, Chiapas, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz and Puebla being the most fertile hunting grounds.
Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, who is advocating for the continued presence of military forces in the state, said, “We are working to have our own police force. A state like ours needs 10,000 officers to cover the population. We currently have 2,700. It’s a titanic task but it’s possible.”
Military personnel currently work alongside police in the state under a system known as Mando Único, or Single Command.
Authorities hope to add 2,000 new recruits a year until they reach the target.
To be admitted to police training, a recruit must first pass psychological, polygraph and toxicology tests.
Public Security Secretary Luis López Castro admits they are difficult.
“The control and confidence exams are strict, from the toxicology evaluation to see if they have used any illegal drugs to the polygraph test. The psychological evaluation allows us to see whether an individual may be prone to divert from the rectitude we want in our force.”
For those successful in the tests, six months of initial training follows at the Tamaulipas University of Security and Justice. Some recruits go on to four-year degrees in public security or police science. A criminology degree will also soon be offered.
University president Gabriel Reyes Galván says that police training has come a long way from what he described as “abysmal” two decades ago.
“I came across police officers with 30 years’ service who had never fired a shot in their life and who were obese or had other health problems.”
Now, the university boasts modern facilities such as a virtual firing range and has qualified and experienced instructors.
A degree-qualified police officer earns an average of 13,400 pesos (US $700) per month plus benefits while an officer who has only completed secondary education earns 7,700 pesos per month on average.
Authorities face a monumental task to overcome insecurity and scandals that have plagued police in recent years and continue today.
The years of Eugenio Hernández Flores’ governorship, from 2005 to 2010, were particularly bloody.
In 2005, 20 police officers were killed in the line of duty and Alejandro Domínguez Coello was murdered just seven hours after being named Nuevo Laredo Director of Public Security.
Also in 2005, municipal police officers attacked a group of federal agents who had arrived as reinforcement. The incident led to 41 officers being transferred to Mexico City for investigation by the Attorney General’s office (PGR).
In August 2010, 72 undocumented migrants, mainly Central Americans, were killed in San Fernando by the Zetas cartel while in 2011, 145 bodies were discovered in “narco-graves” and 17 of San Fernando’s 25 police officers were arrested for alleged criminal links.
These incidents led to Hernandez’s successor, Egidio Torre Cantú, taking steps to professionalize forces.
During his tenure, officers were subjected to evaluations and municipal police forces were gradually disbanded. A total of 25,000 evaluations took place including toxicology, psychological, polygraph and medical examinations. Officers who passed the tests became part of the Accredited State Police.
Salaries also increased, scholarships were offered to the children of police, access to housing credit became available and 1-million-peso life insurance policies were introduced.
Gabriel Reyes Galván is confident that Tamaulipas can continue to make improvements to policing in the state.
“We can turn it around. We can convert the negative reputation of Tamaulipas as an insecure state to a state of innovation. I’m convinced we can have the best, most capable police force in the country.”
Source: El Universal (sp)