So far we’ve had a great run with the Police in Mexico, who have all but ignored us everywhere we’ve been.
Neither of us thought for a second that was going to last.
We’ve been told over and over again the main drag of downtown Puerto Vallarta is fantastic at night, so we set off on a little adventure. Two of the guys we are walking with have been smoking a substance that is not illegal here and we’re all drinking beer, again something that is perfectly legal. We’re walking down a narrow, built-up residential street when we see the Police coming straight at us in their pickup-truck cruiser. They jump out and very quickly grab our hands to smell them – asking if we’ve been smoking anything tonight. It’s very obvious they can tell who has been smoking and who has not, and they line us up, hands on the hood of the cruiser to frisk us.
The atmosphere is very relaxed and I don’t feel scared or threatened at all, in fact it’s all quite amusing and I continue to drink from my beer can while everything is going on. I have not been smoking, so they are not really focusing on me. The only hint that this is serious comes when one of the officers puts his hand protectively on his sidearm as I walk behind him. Even though the tone is quite relaxed he clearly didn’t want to risk me making a lunge for it.
The officer frisks me very, very throughly and goes to work on my wallet which has almost nothing in it. He opens every compartment and puts everything on the hood. Interestingly, he makes me remove my money and hold onto it while he’s searching – apparently if he blatantly took it from me I could launch a formal complaint against him and he would be in serious trouble. After all the frisking and searching turns up nothing, it becomes clear they want money from us.
Then, just as quickly as they came, they drive off leaving us standing there wondering what happened.
We walk only a few hundred meters further down the road before they show up and start demanding money once again. We are later told they are trying to avoid a scene as they don’t want others to see they are extorting money from tourists for no good reason. This charade is repeated twice more before it’s very clear they are not going to leave us alone until we pay them off. Exactly how much money they want is difficult to determine, and I’m happy when they make it clear they want nothing from me as I have not been smoking. Even though we have technically done nothing wrong, they know we are tourists and therefore seem to be fair game. The unspoken threat here is throwing us in jail for the night, which from all accounts is pretty unpleasant.
The two smokers eventually hand over 100 pesos each ($USD 7.70) which turns into another big charade. The officer snatches the money and deliberately throws it on the floor of the cruiser, before launching into a speech about how he’s actually the good guy here. If he wasn’t ‘helping’ us, we’d all be in federal prison for the night and would wind up paying ten times more money to get out. He makes a point of telling us he doesn’t need to tell us how nasty federal prison is.
In fact, we’re all very lucky he came along to help us out and we should be thanking him for being such a nice guy.
They zoom off into the night and we have no more trouble for the night. So it cost our group all of $15 USD to get a lesson in Police corruption. I’m later told Police in Mexico work for very low wages and operate under the constant threat of serious violence, so bribery is their way of making things ‘fair’.
Lesson learned with no harm done.