College student fills her Mexico town's toughest job: police chief

Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20-year-old college student who was the only person willing to become police chief of the northern Mexico town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, says she plans to use a mostly female, unarmed force to patrol streets.

Raymundo Ruiz/AP
Twenty-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia (c.) was sworn in Wednesday to bring law and order to the township of about 8,500 that was a string of quiet farming communities until two rival gangs, the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels, began battling for control of its single highway.

Some may call her fearless. For others she is foolhardy. The fact remains: 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia is the only one who stepped up to become the new police chief in the troubled northern Mexico town of Praxedis G. Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua.

In towns such as this, in the grip of drug trafficking violence, a police chief is often the hardest job to fill. Heads of forces are commonly killed off in the violent turf wars between rival traffickers – sometimes because they are moonlighting for one gang, other times because they are standing in the way of lucrative sales. At times, entire forces have quit en masse in frustration and fear.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

But Ms. Valles Garcia, who is finishing her degree in criminology, says that the community must overcome fear and bring morals and values back to ravaged Mexico. "Yes, there is fear," she told CNN en Español Wednesday in an interview. "It's like all human beings. There will always be fear, but what we want to achieve in our municipality is tranquility and security."

Her posting comes as public officials have faced new threats against drug-trafficking organizations. The lead investigator looking into the death of an American tourist in Tamaulipas was recently beheaded. Political candidates have been assassinated. So far this year, a dozen-some mayors have been killed.

Related story: Why so many mayors are now targets in Mexican drug war

Praxedis G. Guerrero is located in the once peaceful Juarez Valley, just 35 miles south of Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous city in Mexico, where more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006. It is now seeing a mass exodus of residents amid violence between the Sinaloa and Juarez groups.

It might seem that a tough-fisted police chief is the only one fit in the context of such violence. But Valles Garcia says she will take the reverse tactic: using a mostly female, unarmed force to patrol the streets and focus on social programs in schools and community-building. "The weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention," she said. "Our work will be pure prevention. We are not going to be doing anything else other than prevention."

Her force is one of more than 2,000 municipal police forces throughout Mexico. Some of them have been corrupted by drug traffickers even though organized crime is not the responsibility of local police. The administration of President Felipe Calderón is trying to push through police reform that would centralize local forces under state control.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.