Thursday, November 27, 2014

policing ourselves

There's a new sheriff in town.

Well, not actually a sheriff, but a new police chief for our "county."  And yesterday he came to Rotary to let us know he has the backs of the expatriate community.

Alejandro Bravo Roldan arrived in town five months ago from the Guadalajara area, and he has already left his mark on the local police.  When a large group of the current officers could not pass a psychological test on honesty, they were fired.  He has brought in some of his own people.

Our little beach community has had its shares of thefts, assaults, burglaries, and robberies.  Including two murders last year.  That, of course, is the expatriate and tourist community -- the thrust of the police chief's talk.

He assured us that he knows the needs of foreigners, and his job was to meet those needs, having served as police chief in a community near
Ajijic.  He has worked with foreigners and developed several programs that he will implement here.

The list is impressive -- and sounds like something out of Modern Policing 101.

  • One of the Rotary members has been working with the local dispatchers to teach them basic English for emergency calls from tourists.
  • By 30 January, 30 new police officers will be on the streets in Melaque and Barra de Navidad.  A new office has been opened in Melaque already.  A similar office will soon open in Barra de Navidad.
  • He will re-introduce the tourist police program much favored by the foreign community. 
  • The police have installed 6 outdoor security cameras that they monitor from their offices.  The system can monitor 80 cameras.  The police chief has requested anyone who has a security camera to attach it to the police system for free monitoring.
  • He believes in integrated police services.  He has a social services officer who provides psychological support to the officers and can direct offenders with addictions to the appropriate agencies.
His interpreter pointed out that at an earlier meeting with tourists, the police chief said: "You pay my salary; ask questions.  You pay for my telephone; call me."

Then came the sales pitch.  He had told us what he was doing for us.  Now, he had a request. 

Because his officers are not well-paid, their families often do not have much of a Christmas.  He would like to build up the morale of the force by providing a Christmas party for the children of his officers.

He has no government money for that party.  But, in the highlands, tourists have donated money to put on a party with food, entertainment, and at least one toy as a present for each child.

What he needs is money and volunteers.  Money to pay for the entire party.  And volunteers to help run it.

In turn, each volunteer will receive a free t-shirt identifying them as "staff."  He said it was an opportunity for the community to come together to support the police force.  I really liked the sound of "community."  Or, so I thought.

He then slipped in a very odd comment.  And here I am paraphrasing: "Some people may think this is all about buying police favors.  But I am certain no one in this room thinks that."

Well, it had only vaguely entered my mind.  Until he made the comment.  But, I reminded myself, he did say this was about bringing the community and the police together.  Not just the tourists and the police.

I talked with him after the meeting to clarify that my Mexican neighbors would also be approached for donations and to be volunteers at the party.  He told me I had misunderstood him if I thought that.  This is a party only for the tourists and the police force.

The relationship between people in Mexico and the police has long been problematic.  Yesterday we talked about corruption.  Well, the police are one of the most open examples of how authority can go bad.

You know the routine.  The stop based on pretense.  The threat of arrest.  The hand held out waiting for the little bribe.  It is almost a cliché.  No.  It is a cliché.  And too often a common experience.

If the Christmas party is about building better relationships between the police and the entire community, why are our Mexican neighbors not given the opportunity to be part of it?

If it is not to create a "special relationship" with the tourists and police, then, it does not make sense.  There are children in our communities who have far greater needs than the children of police officers with jobs.

But I am going to do my part.  After all, life is not always logical.  It can be rather messy at times.

And there is no doubt that the children will appreciate the attention.  Helping them does not mean that we cannot help the even needier children in the community.  Charity is not a zero sum game.

Who knows?  In the long run, maybe police services will improve.  And maybe Mexico will develop a court system that honors due process and justice.  And maybe a penal system will be developed to reflect the interests of the people.

But this is not that day.  This is merely a day for some people to start feeling secure.  I guess that is not a bad goal in itself.

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