JUST a few weeks ago, the two officers were lauded as part of a new breed of honest cop, elevated to become key players in a drive to overhaul one of Mexico’s most notorious police forces.
Now Francisco Ortega and Juan Carlos Espinoza are among five Tijuana officers under arrest in a crackdown on a drug gang that has beheaded rivals then hung their mutilated corpses from bridges.
The five officers were caught at a house this week with six cartel members who were holding two rival gangsters captive, Ramon Pequeno, head of the anti-narcotics division of the federal police, said.
The arrests are a setback to Tijuana’s public safety secretary, Julian Leyzaola. He praised Ortega, 49, at a ceremony to name him commander of the border city’s bustling La Mesa zone. Espinoza, also 49, was appointed his deputy.
“We trust his responsibility and his knowledge of police business,” Leyzaola said. “I’m sure you can count on a committed police force, a police force that will do its best to gain your trust.”
Mayor Jorge Ramos called the commanders men with “integrity and a work ethic of service to the people. The officers know they have commanders who have the backing, the character and the values to take the necessary decisions to clean up the streets.”
As in other zones where Tijuana introduced police reforms, resources poured in. The La Mesa zone doubled its number of officers to 125 and got dozens of new patrol cars. Officers got radios that, unlike old models, are difficult for drug traffickers to break into with taunts or ballads that glorify drug violence.
Every three months, Leyzaola brings reforms to a new zone of Tijuana.
Under his watch, about 130 officers have been jailed on corruption charges in a force of 2,000. Another 250 were fired or pressured to resign.
Federal police arrested the officers based on information obtained after the capture of two leaders of a gang led by Teodoro “El Teo” Garcia Simental, a reputed drug lord who was arrested last month.
The capture of the two leaders — El Teo’s brother, Manuel Garcia Simental, and Raydel Lopez Uriarte — dealt a severe blow to the gang, which broke off from the Arellano Felix cartel in 2008. Fighting between the two gangs has been blamed for hundreds of killings in Tijuana.
The two men found captive at the house belonged to the Arellano Felix cartel, federal police said.
Among the other officers arrested was Jose Enrique Ramirez Zambrano, commander of the city’s Sanchez Taboada zone.
Drug violence has claimed more than 15,000 lives since President Calderon launched a crackdown on drug cartels in December 2006. Most were victims of turf wars, but police, government officials and journalists have also been targeted.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved