Is Sonora the Swansong for Mexico’s Local Police Forces?

Latin America

Police in Mexico’s northern state of Sonora are resigning as many of their colleagues are violently killed but the government is plugging the gap with its new National Guard — instead of seeking a local solution.

On September 2, Mexico’s Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval declared Sonora’s state police force had a manpower deficit of 40 percent. In response, the government is not seeking to drive local recruitment but is instead dispatching over 4,000 federal police and National Guard members to bolster state security.

The last government census on public security placed the situation in an even worse light. It found that Sonora had 28.9 uniformed police for every 100,000 people, when UN guidelines recommend 180 police officers for 100,000 residents.

The crisis has been made particularly acute by rising violence in the state. In all of 2018, Sonora’s capital, Hermosillo, saw 175 killings, but the total stood at 172 at the end of August 2019. The first half of 2019 was also the most violent ever in the state as a whole.

SEE ALSO: What’s Standing in the Way of Police Reform in Mexico?

This spike has taken its toll on the state police force, with 16 police officers having been killed in 2019 so far, up from 11 in 2018.

Most murders in the state have been carried out along the strategic drug route running through the municipality of Cajeme, the port city of Guaymas, the capital Hermosillo,  and onto the US border in and around Nogales.

InSight Crime Analysis

The turning point for the Sonora police force may have come on June 29 when four officers were attacked in Guaymas, killing one. A few days later, a woman in the city called the police for help after being mugged, only to be told nobody would be coming.

In the recording, a police officer can be heard telling the victim that “the police who are still alive are incapacitated and nobody wants to work.”

In just a few short months this summer, nine police officers in Guaymas resigned in fear for their lives.

Faced with such abysmal morale, it is understandable that the federal government would turn to outside help. However, the track record of the National Guard remains unproven, especially at a time when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has declared it will absorb Mexico’s federal police, provoking protests.

SEE ALSO: Mexico’s National Guard Unlikely To Stem Crimewave

The meeting at which the new deployment was announced was telling. Mexico’s Security Minister Alfonso Durazo broke down how National Guard, federal police, army and navy personnel would be deployed across the state to try and restore order.

There was no mention of the future of Sonora’s local police force, of how to stem the violence they face, or of restoring morale in its rapidly depleting ranks.

And the situation in the state does not look set to improve ahead of the deployment of the National Guard and federal police.

Los Salazar, a cell belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel who long controlled drug trafficking through much of Sonora from their base in the city of Navojoa, have seen their control weaken and other groups look to be muscling in.

On August 8, Los Salazar chief Sergio Alberto del Villar Suárez, alias “El Napoleón,” was murdered in Hermosillo. The same month, Alfonso Salazar, the son of the cell’s founder, was also shot dead.

Those responsible for the murders are still not known but attacking Los Salazar cuts to the heart of the Sinaloa Cartel. Alfonso Salazar was a close friend of “Los Chapitos,” the sons of Joaquin Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo.” And Los Salazar have been among the more violent cells within the Sinaloa Cartel, killing journalists and displacing entire communities at once in Sonora.

Given this shifting panorama, it is uncertain just how the mass deployment of troops will change dynamics in the state. Judging by the National Guard’s track record in other states, after just a few weeks, Sonora may have cause to worry.

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