The editor says the big dealers' influence inside the Tijuana police department is diminishing as pressures grow for law enforcement to clean up its act. "The police have to change. Already now people are clamoring for them to change. They have to change the way things are. Because it can't be allowed to go on."
State police are overwhelmed by the number of crimes they have to investigate and by the lack of contact between different forces, he says. "Yesterday's crimes don't get investigated. They accumulate.... In other words, the state police don't have the capacity to cope [with their caseload]."
Blancornelas says the police force that functions best in Tijuana, though they don't have the best facilities, is the much-maligned municipal police, whose function is officially limited to handling street patrol and traffic duties.
"They are the most professional police we have. Statistics show that when somebody's killed, a bank is robbed, a house is burgled, the first on the scene are the municipal police. They make the most important captures and then they send them on to the federal [or state] police. Of course, I'm sure that if you ask Victor Clark, he'll say the municipal police [are guilty of] many human-rights violations. The reality is the municipal police are the ones that get the most complaints, but here's another important fact: in 1998 more municipal police died precisely because they were the ones [most often pursuing] criminals."
For Clark, who runs Tijuana's Binational Center for Human Rights, the focus is on corruption within the state and federal police, who are charged with handling all serious crime.
"Have you been following the news in the past two or three months in our state?" he asks. "There is a public fight between the attorney general of the state, Marco Antonio de la Fuente, and the director of the federal prosecutor's office in Baja California [General José Luis Chávez]. Especially from the attorney general, who says that these [federal] people are corrupted, that they must return to Mexico City. When you see this fight in the political discourse, that the attorney general is accusing the others, something is moving underground. And also it means that they are fighting for some interest. That they are touching interests that somebody wants to control. Either one."
Who won? Clark says that two weeks ago, General Chávez was promoted to a post back in Mexico City.
This impasse is partly why Jésus Blancornelas is glad to see army personnel being used by the federal prosecutor's office (Procuradoria General de la República, commonly known as the PGR) to handle anti-narcotics duties. Since 1996 the Mexican government has been using the army because it has felt that anti-drug units within the PGR were too corrupted by the cartels. Terán Terán's successor as Baja California governor, Alejandro González Alcocer, spoke out against using the military for police work. According to reports in the Union-Tribune, he felt the presence of soldiers in the PGR was "an error."
Not so, says Blancornelas. "I look at results," he says. "The [soldiers] get better results than the civilian [law officers]. They have a lot of discipline. In 1997, '98 they captured some very important narco-traffickers in Tijuana, including Amado Cruz Anguiano [accused of being a money launderer for the Arellano brothers]."
But in the long term, Blancornelas, like the new governor, recognizes what's needed is a clean and proficient civilian police force.
"Unfortunately the state and federal police don't share information. It is a personal thing between chief and chief. It's not [a problem] between departments. The most important thing we can do is professionalize the police. We don't have true professional police officers. It's not money. We have that. The [forces] need professionalizing. If I start up a hospital, I don't go to hire curanderos -- witches -- I'm going to hire doctors. If I go to set up the police, I'm going to hire good policemen; but they take licenciados who before were chiefs of [public] relations or who were office chiefs.... They are not professionals. We need professional policemen."
The good news, says the PGR's Carlo Castillo, speaking from Mexicali, is that 60 percent of last year's 357 murders have been "investigated positively."
Blancornelas quotes more good news: 40 percent of the 5691 cars stolen in Tijuana in 1998 were recovered; and from 1000 encounters with armed individuals that Tijuana police faced during 1998, they managed to confiscate 737 weapons.
Castillo also feels it's time to try a new kind of cross-border cooperation. "It's no good, police with police. We want high-level relations between attorneys general. We want formal relations between the security forces of California and Baja California, signed. We don't want police relations. No police. We want exchange of technology, science, and investigation. We have information that's good for you, you have information that's good for us, for the prosecution of crimes."
And he says the state police are making a serious effort to clean up their own internal problems, creating Asuntos Internos, an internal affairs watchdog body. "Something like the police of the police," he says. "They make an investigation to make sure there are no drugs, no corruption, no [bribe] money."
The bad news may be that with the peso losing power, and an expected increase of Central American migrants coming to Tijuana -- stimulated by the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Mitch -- an end to Blancornelas's "disorganized crime" wave could be a long way off.