Mexican Police vs. U.S. Police

I currently live in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico (close to Mazatlan). If you haven’t been keeping up, Sinaloa is the home to the Sinaloa Cartel which is considered the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico. A few years ago, the President of Mexico decided to go to war with the cartels. They stepped up policing, they sent in the soldiers for domestic patrols, etc. Needless to say, law enforcement activity in Mexico, and especially in the cartel areas is quite pervasive. Before I get in to the comparison, I need to give you a little background information on the hierarchy of Mexican police.

There are basically three types of cops in Mexico.

  1. The Federal Police which seem to be concerned primarily with the cartels. They also patrol all the toll roads. Federal Police don’t give tickets within the city.
  2. The Metro Police who deal with all other non-Federal crimes (and also the drug war). Metro Police also don’t give traffic tickets.
  3. The Transit Police who are responsible for traffic violations within the metro areas. If the Transit Police have higher crime issues to deal with, they call the Metro Police.
  4. The Army, who are there ONLY to deal with the cartels.
The one thing that all the cops and soldiers have in common is that they are corrupt to one degree or another. Many are bought and paid for by the cartels. In some cases, the entire police force is in the pocket of the cartel. Just as I said, about American police, in my last article any “good cop” down here doesn’t last long. Whenever you get stopped by the cops down here, it’s expected that you will offer them a bribe of some sort to get out of the ticket. And of course, if they catch you with weapons or drugs, the bribe has to be much higher. Generally speaking though, you can offer $200 to $500 pesos (about $14 to $37 dollars) and they’ll either accept it or write you a ticket. To the best of my knowledge, no one gets arrested for attempted bribery. As a gringo living in Mexico, I would almost certainly go to jail for carrying a gun, but I refuse to be completely unarmed so I carry a sturdy frame lock knife. I do expect one of these days to either turn it over to the cops or have to bribe them to keep it, but I’m reasonably certain I wouldn’t go to jail for it; it’s worth the risk.
Being a cop in Mexico is far more dangerous than being a cop in the United States. That being the case, you would think that it would lead the cops to being very abusive and prone to excessive force. So far, from everything I’ve seen in my time here, the police are more polite and tend to abuse people far less than in the U.S. I have had a number of encounters with the police. I had an accident on the Federal highway (toll road) and I suppose they could have taken me to jail for not having a Mexican driver license but they didn’t. I’ve also been stopped for speeding a few times. In one case, I talked my way out of a ticket because there were no posted speed limit signs anywhere. Also, I think the cop was just confused on what to do with me since I only had a California driver license. I didn’t offer a bribe but I was prepared to. In another case, I was stopped by the Metro Police for running a red light, but they don’t issue tickets. I think they just wanted to make sure I wasn’t a “suspicious” person. I actually had a really good reason for running the red and they let me go without calling the Metro Police. And one time I actually did get a ticket despite an attempt at bribery. All of my other encounters with police have been at random road blocks which occur regularly.

So far, in all of my encounters with the police, I have been treated with respect. In fact, on a couple of occasions, a truly shocking thing happened; the cop offered a handshake when he walked up to the car! That would be a serious violation of police safety protocols in the US and it would never happen except in a small town where the police know everyone. Imagine getting pulled over by a Los Angeles cop and when he walks up to your car, he shakes your hand and says, “good afternoon,” it would be surreal.

  • American cops are trained to treat everyone like criminals first, including crime victims. Mexican police actually treat you like a person.
  • American cops will arrest you or beat you just for talking back. I’ve seen people loudly and vehemently argue with Mexican police without getting arrested, shot or detained.
  • American cops seem to think their badges and guns give them super powers, make them super citizens and they are above the law. Mexican cops pretty much seem like regular guys (I’ve yet to see a female cop down here).
  • American cops are more interested in their own agenda than the actual law. Ok, so are Mexican cops; they’re still cops.
Here in a country where there is no presumption of innocence (the law changed on that but the practice hasn’t), no jury trial and police statements are taken as gospel by the judges, it seems likely that there would be a high degree of abuse of power; that doesn’t seem to be the case though. I can speculate on several reasons for this. First, there is the fact that Mexico is by far, a more family centered culture than the U.S. Extended families tend to live in the same neighborhood and frequently in the same house. That gives rise to the idea that everyone is someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister. We are people instead of quotas. Mexico is also far more religious than the United States. I would define Mexico as being a secular, Catholic country. Although the vast majority of people consider themselves Catholic, most regularly practice it; but Catholicism is preeminent in the culture. While I am not a Catholic myself, I can appreciate the effect that it has had on family values.
Having said all of that, if  Mexican cop has something against you, it’s likely that you’re going down for it.  Because of the justice system, it’s much easier to plant evidence, bring false witnesses, or whatever else gets the job done for them. Cops are still cops and where there is opportunity to abuse authority, it will be abused; but when it comes to routine interactions with the police, I’d much rather deal with Mexican police as there is far less risk of getting beaten, tazed, shot or unjustly imprisoned than there is when encountering a cop in the United States.


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  • deepelemblues


    Did it never occur to you that Mexican police are polite because they’re afraid of getting kidnapped, tortured, and murdered if they aren’T?

    Read a history book, Mexican authorities don’t have much of a reputation for gentleness. Whether those authorities are the government, a rebel or revolutionary group, or the cartels themselves. In many areas they are the de facto State after all.

  • Deepelemblues,

    Yes, that occurred to me and that may be a minor factor but it can’t account for all of it.

    When I had my accident on the Federal highway, the police had no reason to be polite. It was obvious I was just a visiting gringo hanging out with my girlfriend’s family. The other passengers in the car were my girlfriend, her mom and her female teenage cousin. Not exactly the bunch you’re worried about revenge from.

    It’s not that I think the Mexican police are not capable of abuse, of course they are. It’s just that their threshold for starting abuse is much higher than it is for American cops.

    Perhaps the difference can be summed up this way: American cops are always looking for a fight, Mexican cops try to avoid them.

  • Guy Fawkes

    I suppose if you behave yourself you are ok with Mexican cops, but I’ve heard if you fuck up and get arrested you are MUCH worse off. They have the Mexican version of water boarding, which is they shake up a can of coke and let it spurt up your nose. After that you will sign a confession, which is whatever they got you for and whatever else they put on the paper to fatten it out. Then you can rot in a Mexican prison while they extort $$$ from your family to get you out. That’s the nice option. Sometimes cops have a night job. It may be assisting the cartels running drugs, or if you unlucky you run into them doing their other night job, which is kidnapping. My guess with that is they probably have to think your family has money to do it. Then if your family doesn’t start sending them money they start sending body parts. So for day to day dealings they may be better, I’d say the underside is a lot darker than most U.S. cops. Not that I’d want to deal with EITHER of them.

  • @Guy Fawkes. You’re right to some degree, but it really doesn’t apply unless you really, really get on their bad side. The average law abiding citizen has nothing to fear from then though. But if you’re already part of the criminal underclass, then, well, watch out.

    The prison system is pretty bad too.

    But again, the whole point is that in the average encounter with cops, I’d much rather deal with Mexican police than US police.

  • Molari

    Interesting post. :)

    Just to point out, police on a power trip beating people is not only a US problem.

    Up here in Canada, we have the same problems with militarized police that will beat innocent people when unprovoked. The exact same problems as in the US.

    There are similar problems in UK, Australia, France and many other so called democracies.

    It’s a worldwide problem. :(

  • James

    I live in South Africa, and I have had a similar experience of police here.

    Although they are highly, highly militarised even compared to American cops due to the high rate of violent crime, they tend to be much friendlier and more reasonable if you are what they perceive to be a normal, law-abiding person. They actually have that concept in their heads. I’ve been present when cops here have found marijuana by accident in someone’s car or house, and they don’t even say anything. (It is technically illegal here.) One time they actually caught this idiot teenage friend of my sister’s smoking pot in public, and they just told him to take it and smoke it at home. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They will often accept small bribes for non-crimes, but often they don’t even bother with that.

    I suppose it’s all quite complex why it’s like that, but I guess one reason is that the jails here are incredibly crowded with no money to build more, and the magistrates will usually just let you go for most non-violent crimes, there being few mandatory sentencing laws and such like. The cops know they’re wasting their time. Unlike America, they don’t really get so many brownie points for frivolous arrests relating to crimes no one cares about, and it’s just making more work for them at the end of the day. There is more than enough real crime against property and persons to keep the public mind preoccupied without having to worry about silly puritanical shit.

    The trouble with American cops is that they don’t perceive ANYONE to be a normal, law-abiding person. It’s just a street gang there.

  • DonQ

    I really want to do a trans-American ride — Texas to Argentina. The police are one of the real issues that is worrisome — especially with the insane drug war.

    From following newsfeeds, I know that a dozen+ US cops are arrested weekly. I also know that the standard of proof to arrest a cop is many times higher than the common man. This domestic blue-line “gang” is an bad as any other criminal gang.

    I wonder how the police in Central and South America stack up statistically to their US counterparts?

  • leonard

    I agree with the author. My experience with Mexican police was very reasonable. The police officer was very cordial, polite and friendly. I was stopped for speeding in a small town outside Vera Cruz. After I paid as I remember 20usd, he shook my hand and guided me to the Autopista entrance, I was kind of lost. I would have had to hire a taxista to follow to get on the freeway anyway. The officer shook my hand and waved at me as I drove onto the freeway ramp.

    Other experiences in Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile were just as good.

    Once in Honduras we were stopped at a roadblock. My friend, who was driving was combative and abusive to the cop. His behavior would have gotten him beaten, tasered, arrested and maybe killed by an american cop. None of that happened.

    And all the while there was a soldier standing behind the cop with an M16.

    One of the advantages of at least Central America is that they just don’t have the money for all the computers, and “compliance” equipment like their american counterparts.

  • goccle

    bunch of fuckin blind cock sucking losers… lol
    get a grip on reality fuckin hippie ultranationalist fuck tards!

  • Sounds like goccle is a sore loser who hates people bagging on his blue peeps!

  • DonQ

    Sounds like goccle has all the intellect of the typical blue-line gang member. Want to bet he’s assigned the very important duty of policing the parking meters in some urban sh__hole?

  • I would agree. For the naysayers, they have likely not stepped outside of their native country so they rely on propaganda. Get your head out of the sand.

    In all of the ¨third world¨ countries I have lived, I have had a decent experience with the police. I never had bad experience generally with police, but I would say my treatment was worse in the U.S.

    When I was robbed at gunpoint, the only time that happening was in AMERICA and not places like MEXICO where I have lived, the police treated me as a suspect (I was a store manager).

    The other time, a US cop pulled me over for speeding, but I felt he was lying about my speed. He would not show me the radar.

    On the other hand, in Europe, when I got pulled over, they immediately showed the radar to me! Then they asked for $20 and very cordially sent me on my way! These guys were still upholding the law, and I would rather give them the small change than go the other route.

    In another ¨third world country¨, I actually assited a not-so-tech-savvy village policeman print out evidence, photos, of a man who had hanged himself off of a fence, on his knees, which was sad, strange and startling.

    I also have the same sentiment as the author on Mexico. Though they may be corrupt, they still retain their humanity and unless you are involved in criminal activity, should not have a problem. But the cops in the US are on a power trip and see the rest of society as beneath them, more so than not, and as their playing field.

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  • Felifefsfax

    Staying at my parents’ place, dying of boredom. Where can I have a good video chat?
    Thank you on advance for your answer.

  • This is great the best one I’ve seen by far but now Mexico
    Has renewd it’s justice system and now their is less corruption
    The Mexican govermnent made it clear if you take bribes you going down for it
    So corruption is slowly but surely decreasing also Mexican govermnent have got a lot harder training system than the US because their dealing with more dangerouse people
    So their cop training is our S.W.A.T training

  • SSP

    I am an agent here in Mexico. Some things you have stated are correct, others things are completely wrong.
    I will say you have no idea whatsoever of what being a cop or an agent here is like. In fact, have you ever been an agent here in Mexico?
    Where does your “expertise” come from?
    You don’t have a clue about what we do, who is or isn’t corrupt, what goes on when no-one is looking or anything for that matter.
    Your post is insulting.

  • haskellbob

    I agree with your evaluation of the differences between the police in the two countries, having lived in both and had several encounters with both types myself.

    Mexican cops get a bad rap, largely because they do take bribes. North Americans are shocked by this, scandalized. And a stereotype of the corrupt Mexican cop floods the imagination.

    Frankly – and I’m going to state this bluntly, fully expecting outrage in some quarters – on the occasions when a bribe got me out of a sticky situation, especially when the policeman had been right and I had committed an infraction – I was quite glad to be able to just drive away and be exonerated by an exchange of cash.

    Of course, what would really determine if the police are truly “corrupt” would be a study of what they do with the money they get in bribes. I believe it is generally understood to be “additional income” by their superiors.

    But – do they spend it on mistresses and drugs and carousing, or on school uniforms for their children and food for the wife and kids?

    Anglo-Saxon mores are definitely put to the test when considering all these questions.

    But I agree with others who’ve held up our own U.S. cops for criticism. They are “too right”. There’s no grey area. It’s all black and white with them.

    And you’re out of luck if you are black, and they are white!

    I like the scene in “The Invention of Lying” when the cop (because no one has ever lied in that imaginary world) just openly admits that his rate for bribes is very high. Here’s an excerpt from the script:

    You’re going to jail.
    Blow in here, son.

    The cop pulls out a Breathalyzer and holds it up to Greg’s

    Wait, officer. Don’t do that.

    I don’t think you can afford my
    bribe, son.

    How much does it cost to bribe you?

    At least five grand.

    Wow, that’s high.

    I need to feel that I’ve got some
    sense of integrity.

    I guess in any country the amount of integrity it is possible for a policeman to have is limited by external circumstances and job expectations. I read in National Geographic about a Mexico City policeman who hung himself from a cross in a traffic circle to protest the expectations from the police department that he engage in corruption…

    I’m just rambling; I expect the issue is of so much interest to me because I have a stepson in Tijuana who is a policeman…

    I can’t for the life of me see how THAT was a good job choice… or how he is going to stay straight and narrow in that world.

    After I visit him at Christmas I’ll have a sense of how it’s working out for him.

    Chao from Buenos Aires…

  • jdouble_1998

    Interesting article. I’ve been required to bribe Mexican transit police a few times. On a all of those occasions I actually had committed a moving violation. The cop simply told me he could write me a ticket for 900 pesos or we could settle the matter now for 200 pesos. On most occasions I’d haggle him down to 150. I also bribed la migra, Mexican immigration, In Nuevo Laredo. I had gone to Saltillo, gotten a tourist visa while crossing (They hand them out like candy), but I had lost it in Saltillo. They took twenty dollars for my little mistake.

    The whole corruption thing is kinda funny until it’s not. Example: Where I lived in Saltillo some guy bribed the cops repeatedly to ignore the fact the he smacked around his girlfriend. He ended up killing her eventually. Also when the hardcore violent narcos are miraculously allowed to walk out of jail (no doubt after paying everyone millions like El Chapo Guzman) things are really out of hand. That total lawlessness, among other things, is one of the primary reasons Mexicans flee to the U.S. in the millions. I guess I’d rather deal with Mexican cops as well, but so would the narcos, the spouse beaters and less ethical among us. That’s my dos centados.

  • Axol

    Whoever wrote this article is a total moron who has no clue what he/she is talking about. I have legal citizenship in both England and Mexico (born in England, Married to a Mexican). I have lived in Mexico on and off for 18 years now spending more time in Mexico than in England since the start of the marriage in 1998 and my wife herself along with most of her known family.

    in response to this article I just want to contradict a few points that have been wrongly and steriotypicaly expressed in this article.

    Point 1. being “a gringo living in Mexico” doesent prevent you from having the right to own a gun in Mexico. I was granted my permit almost 2 years before I was granted citizenship. If people choose not to apply for a permit before purchasing their piece in Mexico then the consequences of being caught are their own problem. Before people think im miss-reading the point at hand, id like to state that the permit DOESE allow you to carry the weapon (enclosed) on your person and using the weapon in self defence (within reason). Your only liable of being arested if you use the weapon for “the wrong reasons” or walk around with the firearm exposed.

    Point 2. Not “all the cops and soldiers” are “corrupt to one degree or another” in Mexico. This is a sterio type wrongly beleived by people who think they can get away with whatever they want in Mexico for that specific steriotypical reason. Only people who have joined the force for the wrong reasons or have been scared into becoming dirty are corrupt. Sadly this doese speak for a large percentage (but less than half).

    Point 3. You CAN be arrested for attempted bribary in Mexico but this is at the aresting officers discretion.

    Point 4 (not a contradiction). Its not unusual for a Mexican official to offer a handshake and be polite when flashing you over. My wife and I live in Michoacan, Jacona when were in Mexico. its about an hours drive from Guadalajara international. White, English languaged individuals “gringos” are very rarely seen in Michoacan. When me and my wife live in Mexico we go monthes at a time without seeing another white person excluding myself. sometimes I have lived their for 10 monthes at a time and not seen another White guy or whoman for the entire stay. Its not uncommon for the local policia to pull you over and check your licence just because of the fact that your white. If you have nothing to hide then the cops have no reason to be rude or insultive towards you. I have been pulled on countless ocasions and cant say I have ever had an “un-acceptable” experience of the local law enforcement.

    After this post is read, I dont think the person running this website will aprove of my membership very much, so theirs a chance this post wont make it onto the website if it has to be aproved first. If thats the case, then id like the person running this site to know that he desperatly needs to review his article and stop putting false ideas into peoples head. Im not realy interested in being a member of this site so go ahead and delete my profile if you feel necessary. I just wanted to get my points across to the writer of this article and hopefully the public if this comment doese actualy get posted.