Local police forces’ transformation: the missing link in countering organized crime.

Since President Calderon arrived to Office in late 2006, he made it clear that his government’s top priority would be to tackle Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO´s). His first executive order in the matter was to send thousands of soldiers to the western state of Michoacán, then the hot spot of DTO’s related violence.

In the coming months, the Federal Government kept sending military, navy and police units to embattled zones such as Baja California, Durango, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas.

The main objective of such troop deployments was simple: to regain control of DTO’s-controlled areas and bring them under the “rule of law”.

Nevertheless some politicians and even policy makers confused –deliberately or not- the “tactical objective” with the long term strategy, which required a wider approach beyond military operations.

Yet this misunderstanding is still part of the public debate for two main reasons: first, the Federal Government has failed to explain the general strategy correctly and, on the other hand, some politicians use this apparent confusion to avoid their share of responsibility in the “war on drugs”. And this is what I call “the missing link”.

Let me explain what I consider the core strategy and how some politicians –mostly governors- are evading their role in it.

The core strategy, although complex in its details, is comprised of three main phases:

1. Tactical Objective:

To regain control of geographic areas embattled by Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime syndicates.  Given the operational capabilities needed to back this phase, the Government would use military personnel while transforming the Federal Police into a well-capable force.

2. Mid-Term Objective:

Once the Federal Police is ready to replace the Armed Forces, the military would assume a “back-up” role participating only in special, surgical operations. This phase requires that the Federal Police has undertaken a deep modernization process, regarding not only its hardware equipment but also its operational procedures, intelligence and anti-corruption capabilities.

3. Long-Term Objective:

While military forces are performing a “back-up role” for the whole strategy, and the Federal Police is in charge of tackling organized crime, it is time for the local authorities to undertake a serious transformation to their local police and judicial forces.  

Yet to achieve this Long-Term Objective, the general strategy requires a full commitment of state governors and their security apparatus. And this is precisely the “missing link” I was talking about.

There are two main actions that state authorities must carry out as part of the general strategy: to modernize their local police forces (creating a single state police force) and to reform the judicial apparatus towards verbal, transparent and more effective procedures.  

With some exceptions, the bulk of state governors are simply not endorsing these actions. Why? Well, if they do modernize their police and judicial structures, they will simply lose control over them.

The state governors’ unwillingness to assume a more active role in the general strategy against organized crime is serious and very dangerous.  

Let’s put it this way: should local police and judicial forces remain unchanged, organized crime will establish its stronghold under the safe haven of state authorities.

The success of the general strategy against DTO’s depends on the state governor’s commitment, and not only the Federal Authorities’ one.

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