From Bullets to Bistros: the Mexico City Miracle

Mexico CityThe Atlantic, 2/5/2013

Mexico City was once feared as being the most dangerous city in the planet. A new network of security cameras, and a focus on community police-work and patrols, have helped entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, and young professionals out of a decade of stalled urban renewal programs, and fostered the emergence of a vibrant nightlife. As street gangs have receded to fringe neighborhoods, crime has fallen, and many late night partiers have a different concern: the fear of being detained at the breathalyzer checkpoints.

Starting in 2000 with the election of leftist politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as Mexico City’s mayor, the city began investing in a series of innovative social programs. Shannon O’Neil, a Mexico expert from the Council on Foreign Relations, explained that Marcelo Ebrard, who was mayor between 2006 and 2012, and his predecessor, Obrador, “went street by street in the Centro Historico and got rid of the ambulantes [unregistered street vendors]. It’s a variant of the broken windows theme.” Ebrard also told the police to focus on ticketing drivers who neglected to wear seatbelts. He installed security cameras throughout the city, and set up the alcoholímetro checkpoints to crack down on drunk driving.

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Mexico City police clamp down on drunken driving

USA Today, 1/9/2011

Inebriated drivers blowing over the legal limit routinely offer bribes to six-year-veteran cop Ernesto Martínez, who works with a team of police officers and doctors operating the “alcoholímetro,” or breathalyzer.

Martínez says when he turns down the cash, the offending drivers often try to get off in other ways.

They pepper him with questions such as, “Do you know who I am?” and, from younger drivers, “Do you know who my father is?” Martínez says while working an alcoholímetro checkpoint during the holiday season.

Martínez is one of 300 police officers and medical personnel who staff roving sobriety checks through a program known as Driving Without Alcohol. It is credited with driving down alcohol-related fatalities by more than 60% since 2003 in Mexico City, according to figures from the local Public Security Secretariat.

Their work is also changing perceptions of policing and public safety in a country where local cops have reputations for augmenting low salaries by accepting bribes known as mordidas, which translates to “small bites,” to resolve legal difficulties.

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