IN a four-story beehive on a busy Mexico City boulevard, hundreds of students sit in various cramped classrooms learning what it takes to be a cop.
``What is man?'' asks the teacher in a course on human rights. In a class on organized crime, students - many of whom have spent time at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's training center in Quantico, Va. - learn ``the psychology of family crime.''
Then there is the continuing education section, where a classroom full of men who are already policemen - most looking bored, none taking notes - hear an instructor detail what to do before, during, and after a natural disaster such as an earthquake.
This is the Professional Training Institute for Mexico City residents who want to be, or continue to be, members of the crime investigation police, called judicial police. And while it may not be surrounded by the lush woods of Virginia, the institute represents a huge leap forward in the education and training of Mexico's police.
``Before, law enforcement was a career of last resort, but that has changed 180 degrees,'' says Raul Samaniego, assistant director at the institute.
The institute has existed for decades, but only in recent years - and especially since Mexico City's Legislative Assembly passed a new public-security law last year requiring more police training - has emphasis been placed on teaching police work in the context of human and civil rights.
Mexico's judicial police have a particularly bad reputation for rights abuses. ``Our job is to succeed in a true change of mentality ... so that our police become more professional,'' says Regina Aleman, the institute's director. With instruction required of all police candidates, the institute plays an indispensable role, she adds. Every Mexican state has a similar institute.
Institute graduates today, Samaniego says, ``can't argue they don't know the law or how to recognize illegal or unethical influences.''