Citizens Committee of El Centenario Meet with the Director General of the Police, Heads Roll

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By Susan Fogel
After the citizen’s meeting in El Centenario on Friday, October 26, a committee of five citizens joined El Centenario sub-delagado, Marco Antonio Garcia, at a meeting at the La Paz City Hall to discuss the recent spree of burglaries and police behavior. That meeting took place on Monday October 29th. After the meeting, a rumor spread that all of the El Centenario police were fired.
We have confirmed with Sr. Garcia that in a month, 5 to 10 officers and the new commandante will be re-assigned. When asked if he agreed with this action, Garcia said he did. He also said that the Director General was not pleased with the work of the El Centenario police.
There were seven city officials at the Monday morning meeting, representing several departments that deal with police issues. The citizens expressed their anger over the crime spree, asked what their rights were to defend themselves and their property, and asked what actions the police would take and what suggestions they had for homeowners. The re-assignment of the police was not mentioned. But, the Director General would not tip his hand before talking to his people.
Some of the issues the citizens raised:

  1. The police coming door-to-door asking for gas money, but not being around when needed.
  2. Slow response time.
  3. What to do if a homeowner sees someone with their stolen property.
  4. That the police know who is committing the crimes and may even be in on it.

Cesar Amador Soto, Director General of the police in the municipality listened carefully, and then responded to every complaint, calmly and without rancor. The attitude from the city officials was one of concern. He was surprised and angry to hear that the El Centenario police have been asking for gas money from expat homeowners for years. He told the group to stop giving gas money.
Amador Soto also said that the main issue for the city and police is the lack of resources. There is only one operational police vehicle to cover El Comitan, Chametla, El Centenario, and San Juan de La Costa. It would cost 45,000 pesos to repair the second truck assigned to El Centenario. He also said that the communities need to organize into something like a Neighborhood Watch program and that homeowners should try to patrol their own streets, secure their homes with alarms, video cameras, and other security measures.
He did say that homeowners have the right to restrain a suspected robber. And if a homeowner makes a citizen arrest, they are to call the police at once and they will respond. Well…, they will respond if the truck is running with a full tank of gas and not in San Juan de La Costa.
Regarding the issue of the police knowing the perpetrators, this was hard for the Director General to confirm, since he is an office kind-of-guy. But, the present commandante of El Centenario said that they have suspects, but no proof. The citizens group feels otherwise. When Jesus Peneloza Ayala, the El Centenario barber had his wallet stolen, the police came back with it, intact within 30 minutes.
If the police were in on the robberies, they now know that the citizens, Mexican and foreigners have complained to the city and have organized. Police behavior is being watched, and several will be reassigned.
What to do if you spot your stolen goods? Good question! Lic. Antonio Torres Rivera, La Paz city attorney, said that if you have a proof of purchase, you can bring that to Ministerial Publico and make a report of the sighting. And don’t forget the citizen arrest option. Or in the real case of one resident, her expensive jewelry was spotted in a pawn shop. Torres said to bring two witnesses that can say they know who owned the jewelry and a photo of the owner wearing the jewelry to Ministerial Publico and they will investigate. There is a process in place, how effective it is, is unknown.
With the city strapped for cash and but one police vehicle, there is not much the police can do. Ask yourself this: How effective are police in the US or Canada when it comes to fighting petty crime? Not very. Even if they respond faster, they are hard pressed to find the criminal. And after a few days, a robbery loses importance, considering the more violent crimes that prevail to the north.
It boils down to this: We are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy! We have to secure our homes, and be sensible about where we leave expensive items. Neighbors have to be each other’s keepers. If you see something out of the ordinary at a neighbor’s house, it probably means something has happened. Check it out. Form a Neighborhood Watch, secure your home. Don’t leave purses, jewelry, keys, and electronics in plain view. La Paz is still a wonderful, peaceful place to live.
Susan Fogel is broker-owner of
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