Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico to create new police force in drugs policy shift

Mexican marines ride in convoy
Image caption Mexican troops have assumed policing duties in recent years

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, has announced the creation of a new national police force as part of efforts to tackle crime and violence.

Mr Pena Nieto, who took office on 1 December, said the new militarised force would initially be 10,000 strong.

Troops would continue to patrol until the new force was fully trained, he said, without elaborating. details.

Some 60,000 people have died since 2006 when the previous government deployed the military against the drugs gangs.

Mr Pena Nieto had campaigned on a promise to switch the focus of the drugs fight from tackling the gangs to reducing the crime and violence that blight the lives of ordinary Mexicans.

"Mexicans want peace," said Mr Pena Nieto on Monday as he unveiled a six-point programme that gave more details of his strategy.

Low salaries

The new police force will be modelled on European-style gendarmeries, with the focus on basic law enforcement duties.

Mr Pena Nieto said the force would initially have 10,000 officers but he did not give a timeframe for recruiting or training them. Previous suggestions have spoken of a total strength of 40,000.

Image caption President Pena Nieto: Change in tone more than direction in drugs fight?

Fifteen federal police units will be created to focus on combating kidnapping and extortion, he said, and there would be more emphasis on crime prevention.

Mr Pena Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon, deployed troops in late 2006 to take on the drug gangs.

Mr Calderon argued that this policy was working as drug gangs fought among themselves after their leaders were killed or arrested.

Addressing Monday's meeting, the new interior minister, Miguel Osorio Chong, took a swipe at the previous administration, saying spending on security had gone up but so had crime - including kidnaps by 83%, violent robberies by 65% and extortion by 40%.

He also focused on the state of the police, saying 61% of officers earn just over the equivalent of $300 (£184) a month, while nearly two-thirds have just an elementary school education.

Mexico is currently policed by a variety of forces, at local, state and federal level with different chains of command.

Despite the new initiatives, some say Mr Pena Nieto's policy is not a break with Mr Calderon's strategy.

"I see a lot of continuity despite the implict and explicit criticism that was made," security analyst Alejandro Hope told the Associated Press.

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