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Police Corruption

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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.

Yeah, right.

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.

-Dan

16 Responses

  1. Scott T says:

    Mexico has so many good people that put up with corruption their entire lives. If the government were not corrupt the gangs wouldn’t be so prevalent. I sometimes think the people of Mexico need a revolution to overthrow their corrupt government, but history tells me this often doesn’t turn out better in Mexico, Central, and South America. It’s a complex issue and the citizens of those countries are trapped. The one good thing they have is tourism and the corruption is quickly killing that.
    I have a friend that rode his motorcycle down the Pan Am Hwy and had to pay several “tickets” to police in Columbia and other countries. He got a $60 “ticket” while changing a tire.
    I’d love to read your thoughts on a solution. Not sure what the best solution is…

    • Dan says:

      It’s simply part of life down here. I haven’t yet decided if it’s entirely bad.. there are some advantages that I’ll be writing about in a future post.

  2. David says:

    Well now Dan, good thing you ran into some “helpful” Policia – you got off quite cheaply….. 😉

    David

  3. j.t. says:

    nice to know the “goodguys” r there to “help”!! better luck next time

  4. j.t. says:

    have you seen the lamonthe film

  5. Brian12566 says:

    As a cop, I am disgusted by such behavior. I might vomit on my keyboard right now. Sheds light on just how good we have it here in the U.S. Could you imagine if we did that type of stuff to tourists in Times Square? And it was considered the norm? **shudders**

    • Dan says:

      Yep, it’s certainly a different world down here.
      Every day I think about how luck I am to have been born in Australia for a huge number of reasons.

  6. Katie Bigras says:

    WOW! That is absolutely ridiculous! I’m really happy it was only 15$ and you guys stayed safe though! Keep Truckin’ (Or jeepin’) and stay safe!! :)

    • Dan says:

      Hey Katie – it was pretty crazy at the time, but as I said completely harmless.
      I´ve talked to a lot of different people about the law enforement here and they are actually starting to grow on me… there are certainly a huge number of plusses to living in Mexico, so of course there will be a minus or two.

  7. Carlos Durazo says:

    hi dan, reading this late, im so sorry that you got that impresion of my country. as you said, smoking pot its not legal, and they shouldnt do anything to you. email me if you need any advice or where to go, and how to act to this things. pardon our law forces. sincerily carlos.

    • Dan says:

      Carlos, Thankyou for the reply and the offer of assistance.
      I want to start out by saying I am not upset or angry at all about the police and what happened. Every country in the world has good aspects and bad ones, and in every country those things are different.
      The more I come to think about it, the more I don´t mind how the Police treated me and my friends.
      I still absoltely love Mexico, and if I have to pay off the odd Policeman to stay here, I willingly accept that.
      Please don´t get the impression I think Mexico is a bad place, quite the opposite is true.
      It´s amazing how man Candians and Americans I have met here who love the amount of freedom in Mexico compared to their own countries.

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