Dispatches From Mexico City: Who Can You Trust?
“Todos son ratons!” my Uber driver exclaimed as we drove through the busy streets of Mexico City one night a few weeks ago.
A squad car had just blown through a red traffic light, turning its siren on just long enough to cross through the intersection. Even with my delicate understanding of Spanish, I understood that he was calling the officers rats. It’s a universal perception in this city. Police in the capital of Mexico are viewed as corrupt bureaucrats rather than keepers of the peace. It’s difficult to find anyone who says they would call the police if they were the victim of a crime.
In a separate incident last week, I watched an old woman roll down her car window and start yelling at two officers in a car blocking an intersection as they tried to make an illegal turn. It’s a poignant example of the lack of respect most people here have for the police. It’s a job with relatively high pay and low entrance barriers, making it an attractive career choice for the less-educated.
In 2016, a Stanford research project began looking into the nature of police corruption in Mexico with the goal of making recommendations to reform the country’s law enforcement institutions. The study was expected to last three years, so its conclusions won’t be made public yet, but their initial data shows a remarkable lack of credibility. “Police forces should be feared by criminals – not ordinary citizens,” the head researchers said at the time.
Indeed, as this Vice article points out, 2015 report from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) showed that many victims fail to report crimes, considering it “a waste of time,” or due to “lack of trust in authority.”
It can make it difficult to know who to trust in times of crisis. For expats like myself, there’s a certain amount of privilege in knowing that, in a pinch, we can call our embassies to help us out. But for those born here, it’s a serious problem. Mexicans perceive their country as one of the most corrupt in the world, according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index. Mexico ranks 135 out of 180 countries.
It’s a situation even more perilous given our proximity to this year’s elections. Countries like Germany are already warning its citizens about a likely uptick in violence ahead of voting day. The same travel advisory recommended caution when dealing with the police.
As for us, we have a tight group of friends and strong connections to the Canadian embassy so I’m not too worried. But the next few months will be an interesting time in Mexico.
Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City. Oh, but sometimes he pops up in his home nation of Canada.