The state of Zacatecas is facing a significant shortage of police officers at both municipal and state levels that is threatening the security and well-being of its residents, warns a state official.
Most of the state’s 58 municipalities are affected by the shortfall, some of them to a critical degree, while the number of officers in the state police is only around 60% of what it should be according to United Nations (UN) standards.
In an interview with the newspaper El Universal, Public Security Secretary Ismael Camberos Hernández said that 16 Zacatecas municipalities have fewer than 10 police officers.
Seven of those municipalities — Florencia de Benito Juárez, Joaquín Amaro, Momax, Monte Escobedo, Santa María de la Paz, Susticacán and Vetagrande — only have between one and three officers, he said.
In three municipalities, the situation is even more dire.
Around 80 kilometers southwest of the state capital, on the border with Jalisco, the municipality of Tepetongo doesn’t have a single municipal police officer.
Apozol, also located in the south of the state, is in the same position. Two months ago, all of the municipal police officers resigned after receiving a threat from organized crime.
In Trancoso, 20 kilometers east of the capital, organized crime also played a part in the decimation of the municipal police force, although in a different way.
Five police officers were arrested last week for colluding with criminals.
They were part of a kidnapping ring that was holding a businessman hostage and demanding a ransom of 8 million pesos (US $432,000) for his release.
Camberos explained that a total of 18 officers were employed in the municipality but following the detection of the criminal collusion, the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) completely disarmed the force.
All the officers are under investigation in relation to the collusion.
State Preventative Police have temporarily assumed policing and security operations in the municipality while the investigation takes place.
However, Camberos told El Universal that Trancoso was an isolated case, asserting that police corruption isn’t a widespread problem.
Trancoso Mayor Gloria Estela Rosales Díaz stressed that she was unaware of the complicity with the kidnapping ring and said that the state force had taken over policing duties at her request.
She also announced that the chief of the municipal police has been removed from office to facilitate the investigation.
Rosales added that the municipality needed between 30 and 40 officers but she had been unable to contract that number because only police that have passed control and confidence tests were given jobs.
The same story has played out across the state.
Camberos explained that the shortage of municipal officers dates back to 2015, shortly after a new police accreditation model was introduced. Almost half of all municipal officers didn’t pass control and confidence tests precipitating a mass dismissal.
Added to the problem, Camberos said, is that there is low interest in the profession.
Many municipal governments have struggled to recruit trustworthy officers to replace those who were dismissed and only larger municipalities such as Zacatecas, Guadalupe and Fresnillo have managed to rebuild and maintain their forces, he said.
However, not one municipality in Zacatecas meets the United Nations (UN) recommended police-to-citizen ratio of 1.8 officers for every 1,000 inhabitants.
The state police force is also understaffed, Camberos admitted. It currently has 1,000 officers but to meet the UN standard, requires 1,600. Camberos said that the goal is to reach that number by 2021.
Recruiting them, however, is likely to be a challenge.
A recent Interior Secretariat report revealed that state police are woefully underpaid and not one state in Mexico fully pays officers all the basic benefits they are entitled to.
Source: El Universal (sp)