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UT Professors Recommend Strategies to Combat Mexican Crime

Published: April 20, 2009
In Mexico, drug cartel-fueled homicides, kidnappings and violence are as common as political promises to reform corrupt police forces. Drug-related crime is such a hot topic in Mexico, President Barack Obama met with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City last Thursday to show his support for the fight against drug cartels, just hours after a shootout between Mexican troops and a group of gunmen left 16 dead.

But, reforming law enforcement and effectively combating the drug cartels are not going to work without both a “top-down” and “grass-roots” effort, according to research by two University of Tampa professors.

Criminology professors Tony LaRose and Sean Maddan found overwhelmingly that Mexican citizens feel combating the drug cartels should be Mexican law enforcement’s top priority. However, due to the pervasiveness of corruption in law enforcement, and the feeble, misguided attempts at reform, Mexico has ushered in an era of no public trust in law enforcement and pervasive violence “with no consequence.”

For instance, a 2003 law enforcement consultation from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was highly publicized, but the suggestions went largely ignored.

“In essence, Mexico needs its own professional era in which government authorities and citizens substantively address the past entrenchment of institutional corruption,” at both the federal and municipal levels, the researchers state in the report.

Mexico and its citizens are clamoring for solutions. LaRose and Maddan’s solution is three-fold:

1) Purge police agencies of rampant corruption;

2) Instill important civil service reforms in hiring and training, and;

3) Show a willingness to combat the violence and disorder wrought by the flow of drugs through Mexico.

“They’ve done the right thing in the short term, bringing in the military and declaring martial law,” LaRose said. “But, they’ve got to stop the violence, get control of the threatened area, and reform the law enforcement agencies.”

The researchers used Italy as an example, which capitalized on strong political and social will to aggressively combat organized crime. LaRose and Maddan see this political and social will missing in Mexico.

“Corruption, particularly bribes and drug trafficker influence, permeate Mexican policing and are fueled, at least in part, by a political and social culture that participates and implicitly and explicitly accepts corrupt activity.”

LaRose and Maddan based their conclusions on interviews about past and current police reforms with Mexican academics, journalists, politicians and current and former law enforcement personnel (both from the U.S. and Mexico).

The interviewees solidly stated that the current era of policing is ineffective and the reforms have had little or no effect on policing practices.

“This will not be easy and may call for what one citizen called a “complete deconstruction of the police, its reconstruction, and redefine their relationship with society,” the researchers said.

LaRose and Maddan’s research was published in the February 2009 issue of Police Practice and Research: An International Journal .

LaRose, a comparative criminologist, said he has seen Mexico’s violent crime rate rise exponentially, both statistically and anecdotally.

“Every night on the news in Mexico there’s a report of a homicide,” he said. LaRose is hoping to secure funding to produce a documentary about the most recent waves of crime and corruption in Mexico City and the border towns.

LaRose, who has been researching crime in Mexico for more than a decade, said student participation in the research has been particularly beneficial.
“Right now, we are working on several research projects with students including scholarship on student attitudes towards crime in Mexico, the effects of a cultural immersion program on U.S. police officers, violence against women and the influence of social science in the decisions of Mexico's supreme court."