Mexican Police Corruption

Published 14 Dec 2016

Mexican citizens have taken to the street to complain of mistreatment not by criminals, but by the police. It seems like the only people getting justice are those that can pay for it. Unfortunately, for Mexico, “corruption has reached a point where it’s often difficult to tell the police from the criminals” (Fox to fight Mexico’s police corruption, 2000). Unless a change is made, Mexico will be unsafe for both visitors and its own citizens. Why does such corruption exist in the Mexican police force? The answers lie in decades of drugs and nepotism among Mexican officials.

Some of the actions of the Mexican police are incorrigible. “In some of the most publicized cases of abduction in recent years, the kidnappers have turned out to be rogue police officers” (Fox to fight Mexico’s police corruption, 2000). In 2002, forty-one police officers and their chief were arrested for protecting drug shipments, taking bribes and even executing people (Peet, 2002). Two years later, the Associated Press reported that an entire police force was acting as assassins for drug gangs near the US-Mexican border (Romer, 2004). All thirteen officers were arrested, revealing the heart of a long-corrupted police force that had become lured by drug money..

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Many theories have been used to explain why the corruption in the Mexican police force is so horrible. Mainly, these theories center around two main concepts: 1) the fact that most of the promotions have been due to family nepotism or as favors for friends (Fox to fight Mexico’s police corruption, 2000) and 2) the money from the drug underworld was too tempting to turn away from (Romer, 2004). Most researchers agree that the drug money is responsible for the high levels of corruption. For example a report by the General Accounting Office in 1998 found “…several studies and investigations of drug-related police corruption found on-duty police officers engaged in serious criminal activities, such as (1) conducting unconstitutional searches and seizures; (2) stealing money and/or drugs from drug dealers; (3) selling stolen drugs; (4) protecting drug operations; (5) providing false testimony; and (6) submitting false crime reports”

(General Accounting Office, 1998, p.8).

Mexican criminal justice expert Jorge Chabat acknowledges that money from the drug trade has infested every aspect of Mexican law enforcement.

Police corruption is a very old problem. It was there before drug trafficking, we have to say that. It is a legacy from the colonial period, and in Mexico we have not been able to solve that problem. This problem has been aggravated by the presence of drug trafficking, because they have a lot of money and they can corrupt anybody. Even the army has been corrupted. Not to the same degree as the police, but even the army has been corrupt (Flakus, 2006).

The reasons for this tendency have also been studied. Basically, Mexican police have always been poorly trained, equipped and supervised. As a result, they are unable to stand up to organized crime and political bosses, who have far more power, influence and resources than the officers have. They have also failed to secure appropriate backing and support in the Mexican Justice System. As a result, the public has basically no faith in the police or the courts (Flakus, 2006).

If drug money has created the problems, how can the problems be fixed? Data from the drug sector and criminal justice sectors have been used to analyze and answer this question. However, there are always limitations in using self-reported data from criminals. One cannot be certain that they are answering honestly. The data from the criminal justice sector are more reliable, but probably underreported due to the tendency to cover up institutional crime. One thing is certain, the answer to the problem of the corruption of the Mexican police force lies in drug enforcement. Police involvement in drug crimes will fall if the drug business fails to turn such high profits and if the risks and consequences of being caught increase to an unacceptable level.

Some researchers feel that the war on drugs itself has exacerbated the problem. Peet, 2002, claims that the “corruption of police, intelligence services, courts, politicians…resulting from the War on Drugs has become almost normal, to be expected, in any country waging War on Drugs.” According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, “Mexico is the main source of marijuana smuggled into the United States and is the major route for most cocaine coming north from Colombia and other South American nations. The illicit trade produces tens of billions of dollars that support small armies of drug cartel gunmen as well as corruption” (Flakus, 2006).

Many refer back to the day so of Prohibition to draw comparisons between the corruption in the Mexican police and in 1920s America. In that case, outlawing alcohol created a greater demand for it which “only empowers those people ruthless and determined enough to supply that need” They cite Al Capone as having a similar grip on Chicago’s police force in the 1920s as the drug bosses have on the Mexican police today (Peet, 2002).

Some go so far as to push for legalizing some drugs. “As long as there is legal prohibition of drugs, there will be a black market drug trade which will remain extremely profitable, tax-free, and powerful. As the trade flourishes the cartels buy off more and more law enforcers” (Peet, 2002). After all, the US repealed Prohibition in 1933. If drugs such as marijuana were legalized, the need to resort to underground and desperate means to get them would be eradicated. The muscle men of the drug lords would no longer be necessary. However, this answer is a very hard sell in both Mexico and in the United States.

In 2000, Vincente Fox won the Presidential election in part because of his election platform to stop police corruption. His advisor is Sergio Aguayo, a law enforcement expert. Aguayo claims that the corruption in the Mexican police force “runs so deep it would be better to dismantle the existing system and rebuild it from scratch” (Fox to fight Mexico’s police corruption, 2000). Fox and Aguayo’s restructuring plan calls for the development of a new Security and Justice Ministry which would assume responsibility for domestic security and all federal police. The current police force is the sad product of over seventy years of corruption. It will take a lot of hard work and dedicated inpiduals to overcome these odds, but Fox is confident in Aguayo.

Officials in the Fox administration admit that police still sometimes use torturous force against people to get them to confess to crimes despite a lack of evidence (Pushing for Due Process and Accountable Police, 2006) “There are, however opportunities for change, as new administrations at all levels, and even the PRI begin to recognize that they need to seek new models for policing, or risk losing voter support” (Flakus, 2006).

However, it will take a long to prove that the police force can turn itself around. Chabat says that Mexico needs to build institutions from the ground up to encourage law enforcement and reduce corruption. He cautions that this time of system building takes time, adding that it could take more than ten years to see significant improvement. Professor Celia Toro of the Colegio de Mexico’s Center for International Studies agrees. She says that a better police force will grow out of a better legal system (Flakus, 2006). The police force in Mexico is certainly not doing its job. If reform does not occur soon, the country will be reduced to one that is terrorized by drug lords and corrupt, self-serving officials.


  • General Accounting Office. (1998). Report to the Honorable Charles B. Rangel, House ofRepresentatives, Law Enforcement: Information on Drug-Related Police CorruptionWashington, DC: USGPO. May, p. 8.
  • Peet, P. (2002). Police Drug Corruption. Available from [Accessed 2 August 2006]
  • Pushing for Due Process and Accountable Police. (2006). Human Rights First. Available from: [Accessed 2August 2006]
  • Romer, S.E. (2004). Mestizos are Different: Legendary Corruption of Mexican Police. Available from [Accessed 2 August 2006]
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