2,500 Cops in Mexico Abandon Their Homes Thanks to Cartels

The entire police force in the violent Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez was ordered to leave their homes and stay in a hotel for their safety after the recent killing of five officers by a local drug cartel.

The gang threatened a week ago to kill one policeman a day unless Police Chief Julian Leyzaola resigns.

Juárez Mayor Héctor Murguía said Wednesday that the attacks carried out since the warning are a response to toughening police action against drug cartels in the city across from El Paso, Texas.

The mayor said there is no way Leyzaola is stepping down. He said most of the officers are "angry because of the attacks," but are deeply committed to fighting crime.

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Police spokesman Adrian Sánchez said officers were ordered to stay away from their houses after Monday's shootout between assailants and policemen. That assault and previous attacks happened as officers were going to or from home.

The city's government said it has secured 26 million pesos ($2 million) to house officers in hotels but did not specify how long that would last.

A policewoman who moved to a hotel in downtown Juárez said Wednesday that officers feel "more like soldiers, living in barracks than police officers." Still, she said, "I don't want my family to become collateral damage if I become a target."

The officer, a single mother of two, agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because she was violating department rules that bar her from talking to journalists.

Sánchez said the police department will assess the results of the measure after a month and then decide whether to continue.

"So far it's been successful," Murguía said.

At least 10 banners bearing threats to Juárez's police chief appeared around the city last week. The messages were signed by the New Juárez Cartel, an offshoot of the La Linea or Juárez Cartel, a major target of law enforcement actions in recent months.

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Some of the banners accused Leyzaola, a former Mexican army lieutenant colonel, of favoring a rival cartel, while other messages called for his resignation.

"We pay no attention to the banners. If we did, we wouldn't even get out of bed," the mayor said.

The five slain officers were killed in three different attacks, bringing the number of officers slain in January to eight.

The latest attack happened Monday, when several officers were ambushed at a gas station. Three assailants were killed and three other policemen were wounded.

Murguía said moving the entire police force to hotels was not a setback in the city's fight against crime. Nearly 8,900 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the city since 2008.

In 2009, a police chief quit after being threatened.

Last year, after hiring Leyzaola, the city saw a decline in reported crimes. More than 1,900 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez last year, compared to more than 3,000 in 2010.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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