Can a Better-Trained Police Force, Embedded in Civil Society, Defeat the Narcos?

As Mexico’s presidential campaign moves into high gear, the left-of-center candidate for the presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) sketched a plan to combat the country’s high levels of violent crime by gradually removing the out-of-place military from the streets and replacing it with a professional force that would be drawn from the citizenry. 

Fred Rosen 3/20/2012

 

As Mexico’s presidential campaign moves into high gear, the left-of-center candidate for the presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has called for the creation of a new national police force that is better trained, enjoys a higher level of mission and morale, and has a closer relationship with the citizenry. In a weekend press conference, AMLO, the candidate of the three-party coalition headed by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), sketched a plan to combat the country’s high levels of violent crime by gradually removing the out-of-place military from the streets and replacing it with a highly trained, highly committed, highly professional force that would be drawn from the citizenry.

827Ebrard and López Obrador Foto Roberto García Ortiz

This new, citizen-based police force, proposes AMLO, would take over the policing functions now assigned to the military and, to an apparently lesser extent, to (corrupt and ineffective) federal, state, and municipal security forces. The proposed new force would be created by, and operate under the supervision of the current mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, who, AMLO has announced, would become his secretary of governance (the most powerful cabinet officer) should he win the July 1 election. At the joint press conference, AMLO and Ebrard suggested that the new police force would be based on another conception of security, one drawn more from the effectiveness of a close-knit civil society to combat crime—a relationship in which police and civilians trust and identify with one another—and less from the current national and local security institutions, which seem to be estranged from society at large.

López Obrador’s plan is short on specifics but it’s a move in the right direction. Mexico’s violence has only become more brutal and widespread in the face of greater militarization. The alternative requires that policing become rooted in civil society itself, not in an institution that functions apart from the country’s communities.

In an interview published in this blog last month, the anti-violence crusader Javier Sicilia remarked: “Organized crime is nothing more than the market economy organized in a very perverse form. It’s a form of using individuals in a way that those individuals are made use of by capital: as instruments, to extort, to kidnap, to rape, to enslave, to sell, well simply to use human beings as resources and instruments for economic ends.”

In calling for a national police force with a heightened level of training and morale, López Obrador is echoing Sicilia’s call for the construction and reconstruction of the country’s social web of mutual expectations and obligations. The police and military have been estranged from that social fabric and from whatever is left of the political compact between state and society. The narcos have, in many areas of Mexico, succeeded in creating their own social fabric from which the large majority of Mexicans have been excluded. Fundamentally changing that situation is the real challenge for any new police force.

 

 


For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested.

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