Results from my survey on police bribery of tourists in Mexico


During my master’s program at the University of Southern California (specialty on online communities), I designed a survey as part of my research practices class on the topic of police bribery in Mexico. It was inspired by a story I wrote once when I was a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune about how the tourist shakedowns were hard to quantify because so few are actually reported.

I finally got around to releasing the survey on SurveyMonkey and collecting the data a few months ago when 113 had filled it out.  

First of all, some context: The majority of the people who completed  the survey (78.7 percent) were between the ages of 31 and 65, with most of these skewing towards the older age range of 46-65. They were predominantly male (85.8 percent), and predominantly white (85.8 percent).  Eighty percent had crossed the border 20 times or more over their lifetimes.

Here are some survey highlights:

Of the total surveyed, 40.2 percent said they had never paid an officer in Mexico a bribe.

However, 46.4 percent said they had paid a bribe at least once or as much as three times.  12.5 percent said they had paid such a bribe between 4-10 times.

for 62 percent of those who paid bribes, the total amount paid was between $1 and $25.

32.4 percent of those who paid bribes paid between $26 and $50.

14.7 percent of those who paid bribes paid between $51 and $100.

Only 4.3 percent of survey respondents said they had ever filed a complaint to report the incident.

When evaluating the perception of bribery as a problem for  tourists in Mexico, 20.2 percent of respondents considered it to be a “huge problem” but 16.5 percent of respondents didn’t consider it to be a problem at all. The majority of respondents – 27.5 percent – considered policy bribery to be a moderate problem.

Thank you to all who participated in the survey. I will release additional highlights in future blog posts.

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5 responses to “Results from my survey on police bribery of tourists in Mexico

  1. It would be interesting to know the methodology of this survey. What period did this survey cover? (Police corruption was particularly virulent during Jorge Hank’s administration [2004–2007] and does not represent the last thirty years as a whole.) Also, if the respondents were self-selected (that is, if they volunteered to take the survey), the survey’s data are specifically those of victims of bribery as found among blog-readers and so the survey’s conclusions represent neither the general population nor the ordinary tourist experience.

    Whenever you pay cash to a traffic cop, you will be paying a bribe or an extortion. (The difference is that, if you offer the money, you are bribing the policeman; if he tells you to pay, he is extorting you.) The perpetrator of either action is punished with prison time under our Criminal Code, just as they are on your side of the border, so be very careful. Honesty is the better policy.

    The normal procedure in Mexico is for the policeman to take a motorist who has committed a traffic infraction immediately to the nearest comandancia (police station), where the juez calificador (traffic-court judge) hears the case and assesses the fine. These judges work around the clock.

    During Jorge Hank’s administration, those judges were in on the scams. Fortunately this normal procedure does not need to be applied in Baja California anymore.

    Any ordinary traffic or parking ticket issued in Tijuana or Rosarito can be paid by check to a post-office box in San Diego, just like you do in the U.S. You might also be able to pay the fine by credit/debit card on the spot if the cop has the right equipment with him. In either case you don’t have to go to the comandancia and your payment won’t go into the cop’s pocket.

    If you’re guilty (and do remember our speed limits are posted in kilometers, not miles, per hour), this innovation will save you a lot of time. If you’re innocent, you still have the right to speak with the juez calificador immediately. Whether guilty or innocent, don’t give the cop any cash.

    We do currently have one unusual problem, however. After-market tinted windows are forbidden in Tijuana: tinting film must be removed upon citation otherwise the vehicle will be impounded. A very poorly constructed ordinance, yes. It was rammed through by our current mayor in order to get Jorge Hank’s thugs off the street (the political math being Ford Explorer + tinted windows = semiautomatic weapons inside) and the current mayor specifically asked the police not to enforce his ordinance whenever the vehicle bears gringo plates. But many of the police were hired in Hank’s administration and they’re none too happy that they can’t shake tourists down like they used to. The mayor’s mistake is the Hankistas’ gain, so, if you have tinted windows, you’d better leave them NoB until the ordinance gets revised, which could be next year.

    Those of us who have lived in Tijuana for a long time are uncomfortable talking about this: it’s like talking about earthquake preparedness in Los Angeles. A fact of life, yes; a fact of everyday life, certainly not. And those of us who have lived on both sides of the border have reported more problems with San Diego sheriffs than they have with Tijuana cops. Believe what you like; at least down here you have a hotline. Anytime you have any sort of problem in Baja you can dial 078 from a phone down here to speak with a bilingual tourist ombudsman, around the clock and free of charge.

  2. I should have written more about this survey – and sooner. But as you can see from my next post, I haven’t had much free time and i wanted to get this published sooner rather than much later. As to your question, I didn’t provide a specific time frame though that would have been a good idea. Though I’m not sure I agree that police corruption was mostly isolated to the Hank administration…

  3. The police in TJ will try to bully you. If you refuse to pay they will usually back down. At least in my experience this has been the case. Most tourist do not know this. The policia know that the tourists are ignorant of this fact.

    • When I was working as a reporter in Baja California, that was my “don’t bother me” pass when it came to unusual traffic stops by the local police. Once I flashed my press card, everyone just backed off. I haven’t had a problems traveling in Tijuana, however, even though I’m not a reporter anymore. And I know someone who did something like what you said – asked the officer to take her to the police station. And he just disappeared after that – not worth the trouble, I guess.

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