MEXICO CITY – First local police in Monterrey lost their assault rifles after an armed confrontation with federal agents while protesting the arrest of cops for alleged gang ties. Now officers in Mexico's third-largest city will be stripped of cell phones.
The legislature in Nuevo Leon state, where Monterrey is located, unanimously approved a bill banning city and state police from carrying personal cell phones while on duty in an effort to prevent corrupt officers from communicating with drug gangs.
Lawmakers approved the measure late Tuesday, a day after municipal police in Monterrey pulled guns on masked federal agents during a standoff that sent motorists scrambling for cover — and underscored tensions over a crackdown on drug corruption among lawmen.
Earlier this month, federal forces raided police stations in 18 towns in Nuevo Leon, which borders Texas, and detained 78 officers suspected of working with drug smugglers. The operation came after soldiers found lists of police names in the possession of suspected drug traffickers in May.
State lawmaker Mirthala Castillo said the cell phone ban would take effect later this month. City police spokeswoman Sidlayin Robles said it was not clear how the ban would be enforced.
Officers in Monterrey complained that they are finding themselves unable to do their jobs.
"We patrol certain areas and we have a cell phone so the neighbors can call us if there is trouble," said one officer, who declined to give his name. "If they take away our cell phones, they'll have to call the station first and it will take more time to get there."
He argued that any officers who have taken payoffs from Mexico's brutal drug gangs have no choice: They either have to turn a blind eye to trafficking or be killed.
Federal forces have been conducting sweeps across Mexico to round up local officers and politicians accused of collaborating with drug cartels. Among those were 10 mayors in Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon. Many retired army officers have been called on to run local police forces.
Many city police are furious at seeing colleagues disarmed and dragged away in handcuffs. The friction boiled over Monday evening in Monterrey when local officers protesting the arrest of a police woman who authorities say is a high-ranking member of the Gulf drug cartel blocked streets and then aimed pistols and assault rifles at federal agents who tried to disperse them.
Nuevo Leon's state public safety secretary, Aldo Fasci Zuazua, said state officials stripped municipal police of their automatic rifles because of the incident. He said such weapons would be given out to city officers only with special permission.
Mexico's drug violence has claimed more than 10,800 lives since 2006, when Calderon launched his anti-drug campaign. About 45,000 soldiers have been deployed to drug-plagued areas.
On Wednesday, federal police coordinator Gen. Rodolfo Cruz said a shootout in Durango state killed one federal officer and three gunmen. Federal forces detained three alleged members of the Sinaloa cartel after the confrontation late Tuesday in the city of Durango, the state capital.
Cruz said one of the gunmen killed was the top man for the Sinaloa cartel in Durango.
Also Wednesday, federal authorities said they have arrested nine state police officers in the state of Morelos, just outside Mexico City, for their alleged ties to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel.