A recent report has found that nearly one in 10 of Mexico's police officers may be unfit for service, underscoring how continuing flaws in local security forces have contributed to the country's crime problems.
According to a study by the non-governmental organization Causa en Común (Common Cause) reported on by Animal Político, more than 28,000 Mexican police agents who had failed polygraph exams, drug screens or ability tests are still on the streets, despite laws requiring police forces to fire those who do not pass these requirements.
In Sinaloa, for example, over half of police officers have failed these tests. Of the 1,187 federal judicial police serving in the state, 654 (about 55 percent) were found to be unfit for service. Of 1,607 state police, 592 (about 37 percent) had failed vetting tests. And 2,413 municipal police officers out of a total of 4,796 — more than half the force — were determined to be unfit.
Similarly, some 30 percent of police in the state of Michoacán had not passed the vetting process. Veracruz has the highest total number of unfit officers on the street, with more than a quarter of police failing vetting exams. The states of Guerrero and Baja California also had large numbers of police deemed unfit for service.
In total, of the 303,492 police officers in Mexico, more than 28,000 — nearly 10 percent — had not passed the vetting process. Municipal police forces appeared to have the highest percentage of unfit officers: of 127,431 total nationwide, roughly 12 percent did not meet requirements. About 8 percent of federal judicial police, and roughly 7 percent of state police failed to pass vetting.
The 2009 National Public Security System Law (Ley del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública) requires all police officers carrying out “investigative” or “preventative” duties to pass exams like the ones described above. If they fail, they are supposed to be fired.
Additionally, state governments are required to re-evaluate officers every three years, but Causa en Común determined that many states have large percentages of officers who have not been re-evaluated on schedule.
“It is worrying that, given the weakness and even absence of control mechanisms and supervision in the states, there is a lag in the recertification process,” Causa en Común stated.
InSight Crime Analysis
The report from Causa en Común is not the first to highlight Mexico's difficulties with properly vetting its police force. In 2014, a report from the National Public Security System Secretariat (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública – SESNSP) found similarly large percentages of police officers had failed vetting tests in states with high levels of criminal activity.
Mexico has made various attempts at police reform and has purged its forces of thousands of inept agents over the years, but incompetence and corruption clearly continue to plague its security institutions. This has helped the country's criminal organizations amass considerable wealth and power, and there are many cases of such groups co-opting police elements in order to serve their own illicit interests.
Mexico's response to this engrained corruption must be nuanced, however, as simply purging ranks of unfit agents may help supply criminal groups with fresh, trained recruits.