Authorities disarmed and relieved of their duties an entire municipal police force in central Mexico amid suspicions of corruption and ties to organized crime, underscoring how rampant corruption often leaves local state institutions completely dysfunctional.
In an early morning operation on August 23, state authorities and military personnel took control of security in the municipality of Tehuacán in central Puebla state, disarming 205 municipal police officers on the force, according to a press release from the state's Secretariat of Public Security. Another 113 officers, including the municipal police director, are suspected to have gone on the run, Proceso reported.
Amid an uptick in violent crimes like kidnapping, homicide and assault that may involve local security forces, the officers are undergoing evaluations to determine if they are fit for duty and if their weapons have been used in any crimes, in addition to taking confidence exams, El Sol de Puebla reported.
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Authorities have already determined that some of the police should not even be in the force as 20 officers never went through the proper protocols required to become a police officer.
This is the fourth such operation that authorities have carried out this year in Puebla alone. In May, authorities uncovered that 113 of 185 police officers working on western San Martín Texmelucan's municipal police force were not authorized for duty.
InSight Crime Analysis
The wholesale suspension of an entire municipal police force demonstrates the level to which organized crime and corruption networks penetrate the state on a local level. The move clearly demonstrates that in areas such as Tehuacán, the state is not fit for purpose.
Local police are particularly vulnerable to corruption and infiltration from organized crime groups, as they are overworked, underpaid and understaffed. They often receive far lower salaries than officers at the state and federal level do, making bribes from criminal groups all the more attractive.
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“If you [a police officer] get paid 200 bucks a month, and organized crime comes and gives you $1,000 a month, of course, you're going to take it," Marcela Figueroa from the Mexican civil society organization Causa en Comun recently told Al Jazeera.
There is evidence that in some cases, organized crime groups even secure positions for their own people within the police force, a phenomenon that may partially explain the number of active officers in Puebla that should not have been on the force. In others, police units even acts as independent criminal actors, for example, running kidnapping rings.
But it is not just the police. Organized crime groups also frequently corrupt local government, co-opting or coercing municipal mayors. Combining penetration of the security forces with political institutions, as well as other institutions such as the press or the justice system, allows criminal groups to exert a complete stranglehold over civic life in their strongholds.
The central state of Puebla has become an increasingly important criminal corridor. The so-called “Red Triangle,” a hotly contested region to the east of the state that sits above an underground oil pipeline, is at the heart of Mexico's oil theft industry. This prized territory has spurred violent confrontations between rival criminal groups like the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) and the Zetas for territorial control.