Mexican Activists Try to Put the Bite on Police Corruption
NINE months ago, ex-cop Jose Angel Perez Lopez lay beneath a black plastic tarp on a starvation strike in front of the United States Embassy here.Skip to next paragraph
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After 48 days of media attention, his protest - mounted to expose Mexican police corruption - ended when Mexico City Mayor Manuel Camacho Solis came to his bedside. The mayor agreed to investigate his charges and to reinstate the 13-year police veteran who had lost his job when he blew the whistle on police malfeasance.
Today, strapping on a bullet-proof vest and easing behind the wheel of his patrol car, Lieutenant Perez Lopez is the vision of a healthy, dedicated officer. But, he says, police corruption continues.
"Nothing has changed. The supervisors still demand money from the other officers, who must extort it or collect it in mordidas [the bite] from citizens," Perez Lopez says. Because of his past, they don't ask him for money, he says, but he is expected to pay for repairs to the patrol car out of his own pocket.
While abuses of power may not have abated since the hunger strike, the campaign to stop police corruption continues to gather momentum:
* In July, two "Against Police Abuse" offices were opened by the mayor to receive and investigate complaints. Critics say the offices have not been well publicized, but they have received 440 complaints and sanctioned 102 officers. "The bad cops need to feel these sanctions, they need to feel the authority," says Miguel Angel Perez Ayala, director of one office. Sanctions range from a black mark in their file to dismissal with no chance to work in any government post for five years.
* The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) published a handbook in June on the rights and obligations of the police. The book is a "bestseller" among CNDH publications and spawned a CNDH course for police officers.
* On Dec. 15, the Mexico City Assembly of Representatives voted to create a human rights commission for the Federal District. The commission means another layer of oversight and investigation into abuses, including labor issues not normally addressed by the CNDH.
* On Dec. 21, Rafael Luviano Delgado announced the formation of a Committee for the Defense of Citizens to publicize police abuses. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, after meeting Mr. Luviano, reportedly endorsed the idea. Luviano is a journalist with the national daily newspaper Excelsior who lost an eye last month when he was beaten and robbed. He claims he was attacked by police. Four suspects have been arrested. Other media are taking steps to combat police crime: El Financiero regularly publishes
a list of police commanders to channel complaints to, and a radio station relays citizens reports like traffic bulletins when cops are spotted collecting bribes.
The growing public pressure is creating a "crisis of insecurity" within police ranks, says Amalia Dolores Garcia Mendez, president of the city assembly's Public Security and Civil Protection Commission.
Mexico City's mayor and police chief are feeling the political heat, various politicians and human rights activists say. The cops in the street are also feeling the citizens' ire and a sense of diminishing impunity. In the past, Ms. Garcia says, police were protected by their local commanders when they committed crimes. But institutions formed to investigate and apply sanctions make policemen feel less secure when ordered to commit a crime. `A group of godfathers'