'America's mayor' tries to clean up Mexico's crime
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is about to face what observers say is his biggest crime-fighting challenge yet: bringing law and order to a place where its disregard is a way of life.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Giuliani's consulting firm signed a $4.3 million contract with Mexico City earlier this month to advise local police on his acclaimed crime-fighting techniques.
Giuliani's "zero tolerance" policy has been credited for reducing New York City crime by 57 percent. Mayors are eagerly adopting similar policies in cities such as Baltimore and Los Angeles, and Giuliani's firm is talking with several European cities about consultation.
But as his team starts work tomorrow (Giuliani will fly in next month), the Giuliani vision will be tested for the first time in the developing world and in a city where the police, not just the criminals, can be the biggest obstacle to safe streets.
Giuliani argues that Mexico City and the Big Apple aren't so far apart when it comes to fighting crime. "There are differences ... but I'm not sure those differences are relevant to crime reduction," Mr. Giuliani said last week.
Mexico City residents disagree.
Take the case of Matt Blackburn, a journalist who moved from Idaho to Mexico City earlier this year. Within weeks, he was flying back home, stunned from two successive muggings. But Mr. Blackburn was assaulted by the cops, not the robbers. Policemen abducted him in their patrol car, he says, and robbed and dumped him in one of Mexico City's many slums.
Only 3 percent of Mexicans have confidence in the police. "The difference is, in the US, people aspire to be law-abiding citizens," says Mario Arroyo, a researcher at the International Center for Safety Studies in Mexico City. "Here in Mexico, respect goes to those who evade the law."
At red lights, cars edge forward seeking gaps in the traffic. Few people pay their taxes, giving Mexico one of the lowest collection rates in the world.
This lawlessness clashes with Giuliani's law-and-order gospel, which holds that the smallest disorder, such as a broken window, can stain society and lead to a downward spiral of antisocial behavior. Zero tolerance has police cracking down on graffiti and traffic violations.
Jose Antonio Ortega, secretary for crime issues at COPARMEX, an organization that represents businesses, takes an optimistic view. "If we can change our mentality to one of 'the perpetrator pays,' " he says, "that will be a huge gain for the country." Likewise, police chief Marcelo Ebrard says he wants to make crime "more expensive" for perpetrators.
Echoing Giuliani, Mr. Ortega argues that Mexico's worst menace today its kidnappers could have been stopped back when they were small-time crooks. Today, Mexico is second only to war-torn Colombia in number of kidnappings.
Zero tolerance also includes environmental actions like cleaning the city and creating venues where people feel safe after dark. A foundation led by billionaire Carlos Slim is cleaning up the decrepit historical city center, which becomes dark and crime-ridden at night.
But social trends in Mexico are not favorable. While Giuliani benefited from the Wall Street boom and an aging New York City population, Mexico's economy is struggling. And those under age 21 make up over half of the population.
Ortega has little patience for this "economic fatalism." He says crime can be defeated with a mix of cultural and organizational changes. For several years he has espoused Giuliani's policies as the key, especially to reforming the police department.