Behind the headlines of gruesome drug-related violence, unconscionable police corruption, and ineffective policing, panelists noted that all levels of the Mexican government are undertaking ambitious efforts to reform their police forces. The panel, presented by the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute, cautiously commended subnational police reform efforts in Mexico in areas such as professionalization, education, and training.
Still, they emphasized that important challenges remain in strengthening public security institutions, increasing accountability, and boosting available resources.
Police Reforms in Mexico's Municipalities: Why Don't Good Policies Work?
Daniel Sabet, Visiting Professor at Georgetown University, commended current reform and police professionalization efforts, including the decision in some municipalities to follow the standards of the Virginia-based Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and other professional standards. Nevertheless, two key obstacles remain. First, while municipalities have instituted many accountability mechanisms, there remains a lack of accountability, civil society oversight, and transparency.
Second, despite the implementation of good policies, some fail to work. Sabet attributed failures to problems with:
- Policy design, caused by the lack of accountability mechanisms
- Implementation, complicated by overall low levels of education
- Institutionalization, as partisan political agendas and the lack of reelection hamper continuity
Bottom-Up Police Reform in Mexico: What Needs to Be Done?
Juan Salgado, Associate Professor at the Center for Economic Research and Education (CIDE) in Mexico City, discussed Mexico's current strategy to combat organized crime. He noted that the "war-like effort to crack down on mob structures" has, in addition to achieving successes, created challenges regarding:
- The appropriate use of force
- Relations between security agents and communities
- Coordination: while all branches of the government are combating organized crime, there has been no comprehensive strategy to coordinate those efforts
Salgado also emphasized that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to police reform in Mexico. Federal, state, and municipal jurisdictions, as well as urban and rural areas, require differentiated reforms. Overall, however, there needs to be an improvement in recruiting policies and a uniform application of statistical information.
Twenty Years of Police Reform in Querétaro: What's Working and What's Not?
Edgar Mohar, former Secretary of Citizen Security with the Querétaro state government, addressed the progress and remaining challenges of police reform in the Querétaro. In the past twenty years, the state has achieved major improvements, such as:
- A tripling of police wages
- The establishment of a minimum high school education requirement
- Increased training
- The implementation of accountability and institutional learning systems.
Despite this progress, however, the state has yet to introduce a working early warning system, organize a civil service commission, and establish performance evaluation and promotions. Mohar stressed that police reform in Mexico must include an inclusive and comprehensive design process, increased police governance, and more accountability and transparency.
For more information, please review the accompanying Power Point Presentations.
Drafted by Benjamin Rinaker. Intern, Mexico Institute
Edited by Andrew Selee, Director, Mexico Institute