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A 20-year-old woman has taken one of the deadliest job in the world: a Mexican female criminology student has been named chief of police in Mexico's violent northern state of Chihuahua. Marisol Valles Garcia, the only person to accept the post, took charge of public security for Guadalupe Distrito Bravo—a district with population 9,148 residents.
Chihuahua has borne the brunt of spiraling drug-related violence that has left around 28,000 dead—roughly three times the amount of Chihuahua’s population--throughout Mexico in the last four years. Guadalupe's former mayor was assassinated was assassinated less than four months ago in June—and local police have been kidnapped and murdered.
At least eight people were slain in the last week alone in Guadalupe.
Twenty-year-old Valles Garcia says she wants her 13 police officers to practice a special brand of community policing, involving an unusual practice: fighting male-dominated violence with no less than the women. She plans to hire plenty more of the female gender — currently only three are on staff — to assign each woman to a neighborhood. The plan: have the women talk with families in order to make attempts to promote civic values, and uncover potential crimes before they actually occur.
"My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and homes where there are none, trying to teach values to the families," Valles Garcia said before she was presented to the public.
Valles Garcia has clearly stated--during her swearing in--that her job will not be, or include, fighting drug trafficking: that responsibility, she says, falls to other areas of Mexico’s government. Garcia says her job will be to focus on prevention and programs for schools and neighborhoods, rehabilitating public spaces and fostering better relationships between neighbors in order to improve general security in Chihuahua.
The Mexican state of Guadalupe is believed to be under control of by Gabino Salas Valenciano, aka “The Engineer”. Salas is known to be part of the the Sinaloa drug cartel, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Guadalupe, Mexico, residents say that the night is when drug gangs take over the city, riding through towns in convoys of SUVs and pickups, carrying guns, assault rifles and even sniper rifles. Nearby assistant mayor of El Porvenir and also mayor of Distrito Bravos were recently killed by the cartel--even after taking refuge in nearby Ciudad Juarez. The female Valles Garcia's predecessor, which held her identical position, was murdered in July 2009.
Drug cartels and traffickers throughout much of Mexico have killed or threatened police chiefs and their departments. It’s believed that corruption runs rampant among officers and Mexican law enforcement, and that cartels also prompt many to quit because of the danger.
Police buildings in towns remain empty, many riddles with bullet holes and broken windows—similar to ghost towns.
More recently, Mexican soldiers--then Mexico’s federal police--took over many patrols, but those who do stay mainly on main roads—not venturing down dirt roads or those less traveled. Those that branch off into the valley and are known to be well-traveled by drug traffickers and the cartels.
"Let's hope it [taking the position as mayor Chihuahua] is not a reckless act on her part," says Miguel Sarre, a professor in Mexican law enforcement at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, who says "a municipal police force cannot protect itself against such powerful forces."
Mexico's federal government has tried to battle the drug cartel threat to underpaid, untrained and often corrupt local policemen who comprise Mexico's roughly 2,022 municipal police forces. Local Mexican police officers earn average monthly salaries of roughly US $300 per month—and most officers have less than 10 years of schooling under their belts, many illiterate.
Mexico has arrested or fired entire municipal police forces for what is believed to be cooperation between the police and drug gangs and cartels. Extremely low monthly wages and weaponry is no match for the drug gangs—putting police at high, deadly risk. While Mexico’s police carry shotguns and pistols, drug gangs are armed with high-powered assault rifles. Two permanent bodyguards have been assigned to protect Valles Garcia around the clock.
While Mexico’s drug cartels have showed ample ability to penetrate much tighter security— easily killing mayors and police chiefs throughout northern Mexico—Garcia says she isn't afraid of being killed.