HomeNewsAnalysisDo Mexico's Police Focus on Famous Crimes?
ANALYSIS

Do Mexico's Police Focus on Famous Crimes?

JUDICIAL REFORM / 16 JUN 2011 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

Mexico's ability to swiftly apprehend suspects in the most high-profile cases, like the murder of the son of poet and campaigner Javier Sicilia, raises questions about the massive impunity rate when the media spotlight is off.

On June 9, Mexican authorities arrested Kineret Orozco, alias “El Chikinarco,” in the latest in a series of blows against the Cuernavaca-based leadership of the South Pacific Cartel (formerly the Beltran Leyva Organization).

The army said that Orozco, who was the group’s leader in the southern city of Cuernavaca, was stopped in the company of two other men and with two assault rifles. His arrest follows the May 24 detention of Jesus Radilla, Orozco’s uncle and predecessor as local South Pacific leader.

Days earlier, on May 19, the army detained Victor Manuel Valdes Arteaga, who they said had worked as Radilla’s boss. Hours later, they arrested a local police commander, Juan Bosco, for his alleged collusion with the South Pacific Cartel.

In short, the last few weeks have brought a mountain of heat on the South Pacific Cartel’s Cuernavaca operations, and for good reason. The government has had the group in its sights since the March murder of Juan Francisco Sicilia, which was allegedly carried out by Radilla and his crew following a bar-room argument. The killing of Sicilia, son of a well-known poet, sparked widespread outrage and gave rise to a series of anti-violence protests that were harshly critical of the government as well as of the criminal groups.

The takedown of the South Pacific Cartel continues a longtime pattern for Mexican authorities: once a crime crosses a certain threshold of media attention and public pressure, the previously powerless police snap into action and summarily arrest all of the responsible parties.

Such was the case with the February murder of American Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Jaime Zapata, which was followed within weeks by the arrest of an alleged Zetas boss behind the shooting. Likewise the Tamaulipas massacres that shocked the country in April resulted in the swift capture of 73 people allegedly involved. Mexico's recent history overflows with similar episodes.

This dynamic is, in one sense, encouraging: Mexico’s much-maligned police are capable of delivering arrests in the biggest cases. But in the context of 98 percent impunity for all crimes committed in Mexico, the success of Mexican authorities in Cuernavaca and in other high-profile cases raises more questions than it answers. The most obvious among them: Why do authorities need a public outcry to suspend their customary inefficiency and pursue suspects with all due rigor? Why isn’t the mere existence of a kidnapping or murder victim enough, regardless of the TV cameras?

At best, this indicates an overstretched criminal justice system that is motivated primarily by media attention and public shaming. (One darker theory is that the government doesn’t even search for the guilty party in such episodes, merely a convenient patsy.) While there’s nothing wrong with security agencies responding to public concerns, the fact that a crime becoming a scandal is almost a necessary condition for effective police work is worrying.

One obvious issue is that media attention is fickle, and the fact that a crime dominates the news doesn’t mean it is the most important threat to public security. Police resources should not chase the media spotlight.

Media attention and public outrage are simply limited quantities. Even if the media does focus on crimes worthy of government attention, this should not allow the police to ignore the overwhelming majority of crimes that escape public notice.

Mexicans need the authorities' default approach to crime to be the aggressive and competent pursuit of suspects. Except in cases like Sicilia’s, where public outrage prods the government into action, this does not yet seem to be the case.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EXTORTION / 11 NOV 2015

Criminal gang the Guerreros Unidos are reportedly terrorizing a local community living near one of Mexico's biggest gold mines.

LA FAMILIA MICHOACANA / 28 JUN 2011

A report by Mexico’s government has branded the actions of the Familia drug gang as "terrorist" --…

HOMICIDES / 9 FEB 2011

Perhaps the most startling thing about the latest Trans-Border Institute's (TBI) report on violence in Mexico is not…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…