Over the years police officers listen to an endless string of complaints about poor police conduct from “dissatisfied customers.” While a tiny fraction may be justified, the vast majority of these allegations have no merit.
Too many countries, however, cannot make a similar claim. In the Middle East Egyptian police are implicated in the rapes and murderous rampages which occurred during the Arab Spring protests, while the fledgling Afghanistan force has been rocked by infiltration and fratricide since its inception. The world is filled with similar examples.
Closer to home, Mexican law enforcement has a reputation for corruption second to none. Much of this can be attributed to the overwhelming presence of organized crime syndicates such as the Leyvan Beltra, the Sinaloa and the Gulf Cartels, who use bribes and barbaric violence – the carrot and the stick – to corrupt the country’s poorly paid and highly susceptible police officers.
Nonetheless, cartel involvement does not appear to be a factor in a recent Mexican police scandal. A CNN report (5/29) stated that Yanira Maldonado, a wife and mother of seven from Arizona, was arrested by Mexican authorities who claimed they discovered twelve pounds of marijuana under her bus seat at the border crossing in Nogales.
Maldonado’s story is one straight out of the shakedown playbook: Cops board a bus, direct it to an alternate location, “discover” the contraband and demand payment of funds (in this case, $5,000) regardless of the outcome of the trial.
With the exception of the officers’ dubious statements, there is no credible evidence against the unlikely smuggler. Further, one unnamed Mexican official pointed out that Maldonado would have looked fairly conspicuous carrying a big bag full of weed onto a bus heading for the border.
Meanwhile, the distraught woman reads her bible and prays for freedom.
If Maldonado is fortunate, her case will resolve in the same manner as Jon Hammar’s, the former Marine who was arrested on a spurious weapons violation by Mexican border officials (CNN 12/23) last August. After four grueling months in prison, Hammar was finally released following the intervention of his representative in Congress, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida.
Aside from these high profile cases, one wonders how many other Americans (not to mention other foreigners and Mexican citizens) are languishing in Mexican prisons. Lacking similar notoriety, they might remain as victims of a corrupt criminal justice system.
Like other countries experiencing systemic corruption, Mexico’s problems will not be solved anytime soon. Change on that order requires massive intervention, determined and courageous leadership and, more than likely, a new generation of judges, prosecutors and police officers. But even they would have little hope of revamping the system if the cartels continue to poison the well at its source.
Mexican citizens, and the foreigners who visit, deserve much better.
All of which puts U.S. law enforcement into perspective. Yes, our criminal justice system still has its problems, but the scourge of corruption and excessive brutality that ran like an undercurrent through police departments in decades past has diminished.
With an extensive and multilayered hiring process, accredited police academy training, and increased government and civilian oversight – yes, including those ubiquitous cell phone cameras that pop up wherever police do - Americans can and should expect a great deal more out of their law enforcement professionals.
That means supporting officers and agencies that behave professionally and holding accountable those who do not.