Mexican president submits police reform bill, stripping power from local departments

Mexico's most corruption-plagued municipal police forces would be replaced by state police within two years under a bill President Enrique Pena Nieto has submitted to Congress.

Municipal police in the states of Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Jalisco and Michoacan would be placed under state control quickly, because "these are the states most urgently in need of attention," according to the bill submitted late Monday.

In September, a drug cartel-infiltrated municipal police force in the Guerrero state city of Iguala detained 43 students and turned them over to the gang, which reportedly killed them. The city's mayor and many of his police officers have been arrested. In the northern border state of Tamaulipas, many municipal police forces have already been effectively dissolved, because they were unable to face up to warring drug cartels or had been coopted by them.

In Michoacan, civilian vigilantes were invited to join a state rural police force that has taken over security duties in many towns in the state's hot lands region.

The rest of Mexico's 31 states would have presumably more time to implement the reforms. Municipal officers could be rehired by state forces in some cases.

The proposal submitted to the Senate by President Enrique Pena Nieto must be approved by both houses of congress and a majority of state legislatures.

It also would allow the Interior Department and the attorney general to temporarily take over corrupt municipal governments infiltrated by gangs, with Senate approval. Special elections would be called quickly to replace local officials.

The bill painted a sad picture of most of Mexico's more than 1,800 municipal police forces. While some of the country's largest cities have relatively large, modern police forces, many small municipalities — about 600 — have no local police at all.

"In several cases, municipal police have been corrupted or infiltrated by criminal groups," according to bill, which noted that only 39.2 percent of Mexican expressed confidence in local police.

Almost two-thirds of Mexico's municipal police forces — 1,110 — have an average of only a dozen officers.

Almost 12 percent of municipal officers in Mexico have only a grade-school education; another 3 percent didn't graduate even grade school. The majority have only a middle-school education.

About 40 percent of local officers make less than 4,600 pesos ($325) per month.