There's a new police chief in this violent borderland where drug gangs have killed public officials and terrified many citizens into fleeing: a 20-year-old woman who hasn't yet finished her criminology degree.
Twenty-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia listens to a question during a news conference after her swearing-in ceremony as the new police chief of the bordertown of Praxedis G. Guerrero, near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010. [Agencies]
The tiny but energetic Valles Garcia, whose only police experience was a stint as a police department secretary, says she wants her 12 officers to practice a special brand of community policing. In fact her plan is to hire more women -- she currently has three -- and assign each to a neighborhood to talk with families, promote civic values and detect potential crimes before they happen.
"My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families," she said in her first official appearance on Wednesday. "The project is ... simple, based on values, principles and crime prevention in contacts house-by-house."
She has been assigned two bodyguards but won't carry a gun. She says she leave most of the decisions about weapons and tactics to the town's mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero.
Whether her decision is courageous or foolhardy, the appointment shows how desperate the situation has become in the Juarez Valley, a lucrative trafficking corridor along the Texas border.
Local residents say the drug gangs take over at night, riding through the towns in convoys of SUVs and pickups, assault rifles and even .50 caliber sniper rifles at the ready. The assistant mayor of nearby El Porvenir and the mayor of Distrito Bravos were killed recently even after they took refuge in nearby Ciudad Juarez.
While the bullet holes that pockmarked police headquarters in Praxedis have been painted over, police buildings in other towns in the valley remain empty, with broken windows and few sign of life.
"Let's hope it is not a reckless act on her part," said Miguel Sarre, a professor who specializes in Mexican law enforcement at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. He said that "a municipal police force cannot protect itself against such powerful forces."