Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 5, 2007
The municipal police force in this troubled border city walked off the job Thursday after soldiers and federal agents ordered its members to turn over their weapons in connection with homicide investigations.
The surprising turn of events came two days after Mexican President Felipe Calderon dispatched 3,300 federal troops and police to the city in an effort to combat violence linked to drug cartels.
Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon acknowledged in a radio interview Thursday that local and state police were being compromised by narco-traffickers, and he said government salaries could not compete with the financial rewards offered by drug dealers.
Members of the 2,300-strong police force turned over more than 2,100 guns and semiautomatic assault rifles at police headquarters. But police officials decided it would be too dangerous to patrol unarmed, especially because more than a dozen officers have been killed recently in drug-related attacks.
Among those whose weapons were taken were the bodyguards for the mayor and for Algorri, a civilian who does not carry a weapon.
A spokesman for the federal attorney general said the military had ordered the confiscation of the police weapons to investigate whether any had been used in suspicious killings. He gave no details.
It was not immediately known how many homicides the federal officials were investigating. More than 300 people were killed in the city in 2006.
“We’re defenseless against organized crime. Without our weapons, we can’t do anything,” said one officer, who declined to be identified.
It appeared that municipal police were still on duty at jails.
Tijuana and the surrounding communities are a key battleground for control of drug smuggling routes into the United States. The city and the state of Baja California have suffered increased kidnappings and killings of drug traffickers, police officers, business owners and bystanders.
The federal enforcement effort, dubbed Operation Tijuana, comes three weeks after Calderon sent troops to his Pacific Coast home state of Michoacan, where more than 80 people were arrested, more than 1,300 acres of marijuana crops were destroyed and over 6 tons of harvested plants were seized.
Calderon has said that federal forces are needed to combat Mexico’s drug violence because of corruption and incompetence among local and state police.
Local police in the northern Mexican border city of Tijuana have been ordered to hand in their guns.
The move is part of an operation by soldiers and federal police to crack down on drug traffickers.
The guns will be inspected by federal officials, who are investigating allegations that some local officers have been involved in drug smuggling.
Police are refusing to patrol unarmed, reports say. Gang violence left more than 300 dead in Tijuana last year.
Earlier this week, the government announced it was sending more than 3,000 soldiers and police to the Tijuana to help fight drug trafficking and gang violence.
Interior Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna said the Tijuana operation would be backed by 28 boats, 21 planes and nine helicopters.
The city, across the border from San Diego in California, is a major entry point for drugs into the US.
This is the second such federal operation ordered by President Felipe Calderon since he took office last month.
In December, federal officials carried out a crackdown in the western state of Michoacan, which is also hard hit by drug-related violence.
Drug gangs are blamed for more than 2,000 deaths in Mexico in 2006.