Nearly 93 percent of drivers believe traffic police in the state of Mexico are corrupt, a poll says. But are all-female transit teams the answer?
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s most populous state is trying a new tactic to curtail extortion among its infamously corrupt municipal police forces — allowing only women to issue tickets for traffic violations.
The governor of the state of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila, recently asked 12 of the 18 municipalities around Mexico City to stop issuing traffic tickets until the all-female force is installed.
The municipalities had not been complying with a 2012 law that says only officers on the special female transit teams can issue tickets in Mexico state, which has more than 15 million residents.
The women officers, who wear black jackets with bright orange on the chest and shoulders to help drivers identify them easily, are already working in some parts of the state.
Calling the reforms part of a "crusade against corruption," Ávila said any unauthorized police caught attempting to issue traffic violations would face punishment of one to five years in prison.
"Today we have a regulation that is on the side of the people, which is on the side of the motorist, which thinks of him and seeks to prevent such abuses," Ávila said in a statement last week. "We will act with a firm hand when a traffic element, state or municipal, abuses or attempts to abuse the motorist, and certainly we will apply the law and regulations to the fullest."
The changes are in response to widely known corruption among local police. A poll conducted by the federal government in October found transit police in the state of Mexico are the least trusted in the country, with 92.7 percent of respondents saying they perceived corruption within police ranks.
MSN News: Magdalene Perez
Drivers in the Mexico City area say police often solicit bribes, known as la mordida or "bite," while making traffic stops for speeding, drunken driving or failure to wear a seat belt. Officers tell drivers the cost of a ticket, then offer to let them go if they pay to the officers a fraction of its price in cash.
Police often compel drivers to pay the bribe by threatening to impound their cars, a hassle that incurs more fines and can take hours or days to resolve, drivers said. The new law fixes that problem by eliminating grounds for impounding cars, according to the governor’s statement.
Some are skeptical that simply changing the gender of the traffic force will result in a lasting reduction in corruption.
Carlos Velasquez Pineda, a taxi driver from Nezahualcoyotl, a suburb of more than 1 million residents on the outskirts of Mexico City, said change must come from the top.
"In principle, it’s likely that the measure will work," he said. "But with time, if the supervisors or bosses aren’t strict, it’s all going to go back to how it was."
Marco Antonio Macín, a member of the Citizens Council for Security in the state, agrees that supervision is key.
“There is no way to stop the corruption with just women. The only way to do it is to enforce the law, and that can be only if they are supervised all the time,” Macín said.
Pablo Monsalvo, a professor of public security at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, said purging police corruption is a matter of instilling strong values in officers regardless of gender. Officials must hire people who are driven to law enforcement by vocation rather than money, he said.
"The problem of corruption is not one of men or women. It’s a problem of human beings," Monsalvo said.
Whether all-women traffic teams reduce corruption or not, they may offer a greater sense of comfort to female drivers. Mexico state resident Dolores Marquez Mota, 65, said she would prefer to go to a woman for assistance because she’s afraid to ask for help from a man.
"Before, there were women police officers, but very, very few, so in that way it will be better," she said.
Mexico state is not the first place in Latin America to experiment with using female officers to reduce police corruption. Peru’s national police force introduced a female transit division in 1998, citing studies that showed women officers were more honest, disciplined, hardworking and trustworthy than their male counterparts.
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