Aug 242007
 

The LA times has a story on the latest attempt to root out corruption in the Baja police force:

They’re installing cameras to catch extortion attempts, publicizing that people can pay tickets with credit cards and transferring corrupt cops. They’ve deployed a squad of female traffic officers to offer courteous help to tourists. They’ve even declared the stretch of road a “no-ticket” highway.

Many police officers turn to extortion, he said, because their supervisors threaten to transfer them to dangerous neighborhoods if they don’t fork over a daily share of cash from bribes. Officers usually don’t demand cash from the drivers they stop, he said. Instead, they start asking a lot of questions and reviewing registration records. Most people are quick to offer a bribe to avoid long dealings with officers who seem to have nothing but time on their hands.

“For Americans, $20 is nothing,” said the former officer. “The American has money. The American doesn’t know the law. The American doesn’t want his vacation delayed.” The best way to avoid paying a bribe, he said, is to insist on being taken to the police station. “If the American wanted to go to the station, I would follow for a while, and then put on my lights and pretend I had an emergency. I didn’t want to get in trouble with my supervisors,” the former patrol officer said.

….After Julio Caesar Garcia, a 33-year-old police supervisor, gave driving directions to a saleswoman for the Trump development, he was given an award by Torres’ real estate association. “She was impressed that I didn’t ask for a bribe, but I was just doing my job,” said Garcia, who was a bit bewildered by the praise. “I never got an award for being shot at.”

The latest anti-corruption measures, say border experts, reflect Baja California’s growing commitment to professional law enforcement. Police salaries in Tijuana were recently doubled — to about $1,500 monthly — making the force the highest paid in Mexico, say officials who hope the increases also will make their officers the least likely to seek bribes. Serious problems remain, including a lack of professional training, minimum educational requirements and an entrenched culture of corruption that in some departments starts at the top.

There’s also the temptation of all the new money in the area. The former Rosarito Beach police officer said many cops viewed the building boom as a bribe-taking bonanza on par with the filming of “Titanic” in Baja in the mid-1990s, when he and other police regularly stopped studio workers and visiting Hollywood executives. “They were easy targets because of the language difference and because they were always in hurry,” the former patrol officer said. “Those were great days.”

Real estate professionals don’t see it that way. Their goal is to re-create the Southern California oceanfront experience in Mexico at a fraction of the price, without the problem of corrupt officers’ outstretched hands.

I found the whole thing worth a read to know what to expect on your next trip south, and get an update on the building boom. I wonder how the Baja condo and walled community boom will do over the next two years, assuming housing continues to dip up north…

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