RE: AZMEX SPECIAL 17-12-11 Between Loyzaola in Cd. Juarez, and
Mex. army in Sonora, some people starting to feel the pain.
THE SATURDAY PROFILE
A Crime Fighter Draws Plaudits, and Scrutiny
By DAMIEN CAVE
Published: December 23, 2011
Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times
"You can't apply a strategy from a desk. You have to apply it in the
street." - Julián Leyzaola, Chief of Police in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
Times Topic: Mexican Drug Trafficking
JUST a few days into his new job as the police chief here in Mexico's
longtime murder capital, Julián Leyzaola said, he received a phone
call from the boss of a crime syndicate named La Linea. Mr. Leyzaola
had been threatened before, quite often, in his last job as the head
of public security in Tijuana.
But this call was different. It came from a former police officer,
who called the chief's cellphone to suggest a partnership. "It's
Diego," said the crime boss, José Antonio Acosta Hernández. "I'm at
Chief Leyzaola, 51, a trim former military officer with a flair for
drama, smiled at the recollection. The call came in March. In July,
he arrested El Diego and his main collaborators, including several
police officers. "I don't dialogue with delinquents," he said.
But ever since that victory over La Linea, Chief Leyzaola — already
Mexico's most renowned and controversial policeman — has been under a
spotlight that keeps getting hotter. Positive and negative
developments have intertwined: violence has declined in Juárez, with
murders down by around a third over the last year; at the same time,
complaints of human rights abuses by the police have increased,
including some against the chief himself; and now that La Linea is
gone, one of its rivals, the Sinaloa cartel, has become more powerful.
This appears to be the Leyzaola package. A similar dynamic played out
during his time in Tijuana from 2008 through 2010, and just as
residents there are still trying to make sense of his approach, the
people of Juárez are also now scratching their heads with cautious awe.
"We're seeing the results we asked for," said Federico Ziga,
president of the Ciudad Juárez restaurant association. "Not everyone
agrees on the cause, but the results are there."
IN a wide-ranging interview at his office here, Chief Leyzaola said
he had long aimed to destroy the "narco dream" by showing that the
authorities could take away "their guns, their cars, their drugs,
their money." Like a boxer or wrestler, he treats his tough-guy image
as a necessary tactic. In Tijuana, he punched a dead cartel gunman in
the face as bystanders watched. There and here, he insists on calling
criminals "mugrosos," or slimeballs.
"You can't apply a strategy from a desk," he said, sitting behind a
desk with just a few papers and a fruit smoothie. "You have to apply
it in the street."
Specifically, he says he has calmed Juárez by dividing the city into
sectors and locking down troubled areas, starting with the central
business district where La Linea was based. For months at a time, he
said, he deployed the police to stop and question everyone going in
and out of certain neighborhoods.
Critics contend that while the effort destroyed La Linea, an
especially violent gang implicated in the 2010 massacre of teenagers
at a house party and the killing of a United States Consulate worker,
it has also led to unjustified arrests for anyone young or poor who
looks like trouble.
"It's a systemic violation of human rights," said Gustavo de la Rosa,
a Chihuahua State human rights investigator. "More than 5,000 illegal
detentions were reported in the months of October and November."
Chief Leyzaola has also been accused of personally beating prison
inmates with a two-by-four after a riot at the local jail in July. An
American who has since been released said he saw the chief hitting
More recently, two other prisoners accused the chief and seven other
officers of killing a friend after the three men were arrested
together in November.
Though his office did not respond to requests for comment on these
specific beating and homicide allegations, Chief Leyzaola has not
denied using arrests and "intense, harassing patrols" to break the
link between petty criminals and organized crime. Young people, he
said, must understand the consequences of claiming to be a big shot.
Many residents do not seem to mind. They had been complaining for
years about local thugs taking advantage of anarchy and fear to
extort their neighbors. Even human rights advocates like Mr. de la
Rosa have acknowledged that there are "pervasive interests"
determined to take down Chief Leyzaola, who survived his latest
assassination attempt in June.
YET, his legal problems continue to pile up. Mr. Leyzaola is now
scheduled to appear before a judge to address allegations tied to his
time in Tijuana. A recent report from the Human Rights Commission
there argued that he and several subordinates tortured four police
officers suspected of corruption in 2010. An earlier report linked
him to the deaths of five people accused of killing police officers
He has denied those allegations, insisting that the claims are an
effort to smear him. He also denies having anything to do with the
case of four young men here in Juárez who were found dead in a tunnel
a few weeks after witnesses saw them detained by the police on March 26.
"I had only 10 days on the job when this started," he said. "What did
we do in this case? I was the one who insisted that those responsible
Chief Leyzaola (who failed to mention that only a few of the 15
officers accused in that case have been arrested) says he is mainly
struggling with a young and ill-equipped police force. He has already
fired about 200 officers, and he said more were likely to be purged.
In addition to the challenge of recruiting — the department now has
about 2,300 officers, he said, down from 3,000 a few years ago — he
highlighted the challenge of training the ones he hires: "About 1,800
of the 2,300 officers have no more than two years of service."
Many say they are inspired by their boss. Inside the police station
lobby, they point proudly to a wall of newspaper clippings on
arrests. Such strong morale is certainly a rarity in many Mexican
police departments. But experts say that Chief Leyzaola has yet to
grasp the limits of his show-how-tough-we-are approach.
"Policing is not about personalities — it's about procedures and
institutions," said David A. Shirk, director of the Trans-Border
Institute at the University of San Diego. "When Leyzaola is gone, as
he inevitably will be at some point, what will be left behind? That's
the key question."
Transparent processes for investigations and promotions matter more
than tough talk or even high profile arrests, experts say. And while
crime is down in both Tijuana and Juárez, it is not clear how much
this has to do with Chief Leyzaola. Mr. Shirk said it likely had more
to do with cartel dynamics — a truce or shift in power, with one
group gaining an overwhelming edge. Some Sinaloa cartel members on
trial in the United States have said they tried to work with Mexican
and American authorities so they could defeat La Linea.
Mr. de la Rosa added that the drop in crime might also just be
exhaustion. Thousands of presumed cartel hired killers have died here
over the past few years.
But no matter what the cause, or the fallout, Chief Leyzaola seems
unlikely to play a role any different from what he knows.
"I'm a soldier; I'm a nationalist," he said, leaning forward in his
chair, as if addressing a television camera. "I have one objective:
to fight delinquency."