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Police Take Over from Army at Mexico Border

Police Take Over from Army at Mexico Border

Federal police stand in formation as they begin their patrols in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday, April 8, 2010. The federal police are taking the lead of the city's security which was headed by the army in recent months. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

Associated Press

April 09, 2010

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Mexican army troops were pulled off Ciudad Juarez’s streets Thursday and replaced by thousands of federal police officers who will take over the fight against drug-related violence that claimed over 2,600 lives last year in this border city.

With lights flashing and helicopters churning overhead, dozens of blue-and-white federal patrol cars, trucks and armored cars streamed onto the streets, with helmeted officers scanning boulevards once plied by tan army humvees. About 412 federal vehicles, eight armored units, 90 motorcycles and four aircraft will patrol this city of 1.3 million, across the border from El Paso, Texas, that has become cartel battleground for drug routes heading north.

“This is the first step toward the solution … and I think very soon we will see the effects on safety in the city,” said Mayor Jose Reyes, noting that the city’s 3,000-member municipal police force will now be backed up by 5,000 federal police.

Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said the change of strategy is intended to bring more community policing and intelligence work to the problem of gang and drug cartel violence. He said soldiers will remain at checkpoints at border crossings, entrances to the city and a few other strategic locations.

There were mixed reactions to the withdrawal of the army troops, who were first sent to the city in massive numbers in early 2008 by President Felipe Calderon, and who took control of almost all police duties in 2009.

The troop deployment involved 10,000 soldiers at its height, a number that has since fallen by about half, but was plagued by complaints of abuses by soldiers, mainly illegal detentions, searches and petty theft. It was unclear how many soldiers would remain after Thursday’s announcement; the city is home to a permanent army base that has long employed around 2,000 troops.

Reyes, the mayor, praised the army for helping out, saying “there are a lot of requests from people who call me and say they don’t want the army to leave.”

But he acknowledged that “the army is not designed for doing police work. We all knew that.”

At the Center for Liberation from Addictions, a Ciudad Juarez drug rehab center where many of the patients said they had been the victim of army abuses, the news that soldiers were being taken off patrol duty brought relief.

“If you had money, they would take it and let you go. If you didn’t, they would detain you,” said Rosa, who gave only her first name like most recovering addicts in a city where rehab centers have been attacked.

The army did not respond to requests for reaction to those accusations.

Rosas announced the opening of a new federal command center in an old maquiladora building, where 40 intelligence officers will work exclusively on solving kidnapping and extortion, which became common after drug cartels branched out into other lines of illicit business.

Rosas pledged to involve residents more in police work, through citizen advisory boards.

“We will give results,” Rosas said.

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