clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mexico police chief suspends third of his force for drug use

The new police chief of this growing border town promised to root out corruption, so he suspended a third of his police force.

Police Chief Luis Alberto Campa Lastra, who started the job in September with no law-enforcement experience, tested nearly all of his employees for drugs recently. Of the 208 tested, 66 had drugs in their system and are now suspended.All but one - an administrator Campa would not name - were officers.

Campa said the drug tests and the suspensions mark a major step toward reducing corruption in the police force. He said he is trying to fulfill the promises of the new city administration elected in July.

"With the old government there were drug tests. If they tested positive, they just said, `Be rehabilitated' and never checked up on them," Campa said through an interpreter.

The new mayor and other officials promised a thorough cleanup and hired Campa, who has no police experience.

City attorney Mario Guevara said officials valued Campa's integrity over experience. Experience without honesty will not end the corruption and mismanagement of former officials, Guevara said.

The vast majority of the suspended officers tested positive for cocaine, but others were caught with marijuana, methamphetamines or some combination, said Campa.

The officers were suspended and ordered to undergo rehabilitation for at least the next two months. Otherwise, they will be fired, the police chief said.

He said drug use among his officers merely reflects what's happening on the streets of San Luis Rio Colorado, a border city on the northern edge of the Mexican state of Sonora and about 20 miles south of Yuma, Ariz.

The lab that tested Campa's officers told him one officer had approximately $65 worth of cocaine in his body.

"How can they buy that with just $100 every two weeks in salary?" he asked. "This an example of how drug trafficking is involved in the police. The traffickers give them drugs in exchange for police protection or information."

He said he does not fear retribution from drug dealers, but this is not the safest place to take a hard line against traffickers. In July, the 29-year-old publisher of the newspaper La Prensa was shot to death in the street outside his office.

Five men allegedly were hired to kill Benjamin Flores Gonzalez at the behest of reputed drug lord Jamie Gonzalez Gutierrez. Gonzalez Gutierrez, who is serving a 12-year prison term for marijuana trafficking, reportedly was angry about articles Flores had written about him.

Campa said San Luis Rio Colorado certainly isn't alone in its drug problems.

Drug use has seeped into every police station - city, state or federal - throughout Mexico, he said.

In May, $10 million worth of cocaine disappeared from a federal police substation after being confiscated from alleged traffickers here.

One federal police officer and one inmate also disappeared from the station when the 1,043 pounds vanished.