Tag Archives: crime

Mexican cops doing good: The David Caruso case



Cops gone bad in Mexico is a recurring theme that tends to dominate our perceptions of law enforcement in Mexico. The recent capture by Tijuana law enforcement of  the suspected stalker of actor  David Caruso  highlights the more professional side of police agencies south of the border.  Interestingly, Tijuana authorities say they found the alleged Caruso stalker with the help of a blog called The Stalker Chronicles,  according to this Feb. 20 Associated Press story.

Here is a small sampling of other cross-border investigations: 

In 2001, Baja California investigators arrested a Tijuana man who used his resemblance to Ricky Martin to seduce and rape women. One of the victims I talked to (for a San Diego Union-Tribune story that is no longer available on the Internet) was from the United States. Her cooperation with Mexican authorities was key in his arrest. Here is an abbreviated Associated Press story.

In 2005, Mexican authorities recovered an abducted Nevada girl and arrested a suspect accused of sexually abusing the girl in the United States and Mexico. Here is a reprinted Union-Tribune story.

In 2008, Mexican authorities tracked down a man suspected of murdering his girlfriend in the United States and then fleeing to Baja California. Mexican authorities captured the man in San Felipe. Read the Los Angeles Times story by Scott Glover here.

Photo of David Caruso (above) reprinted permission of Alan Light via Creative Commons license


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Tijuana security


                KPBS video (via YouTube) of Car Armoring Service’s Tijuana plant

As the border region enters its second year of what I would describe as sustained drug warfare, some people have decided to simply stop going to border cities like Tijuana.

Other people – who have reasons to take extra-precautions for their safety because they own a business in Mexico or are part of a criminal group – make sure they go there as if prepared for battle. I don’t have any statistics on the numbers of armored vehicles being used in these border cities, but I recently noticed full-page newspaper advertisements for several Tijuana region services so there must be a demand for the extra protection that can cost upwards of $50,000.

One of them, Car Armoring Service, is a company I profiled in 2006 for The San Diego Union-Tribune when the business was using its original name of Total Shield-Blindado Seguro. You can read the story here. Amy Isackson of KPBS-San Diego radio did a more recent story in December about armored cars that you can access here. It has an interesting video of Car Armoring’s Tijuana factory that has also been posted on YouTube

 Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security has a listing of 45  car armoring services, according to this online document, but it isn’t broken down by region. One of them, Blindajes Goldman, opened up shop in Tijuana recently. Carlos Guerrero, who runs Car Armoring Service, told me that more competitors have tried to nose their way into the border region. Despite that, he said, business is brisk and his company – which already has offices in Mexicali and San Diego –  will be soon opening another branch in the city of El Paso, Texas.

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Tijuana bicyclists keep on pedaling


The Ciclopista Tijuana bicyclists – who I wrote about in this previous blog posting-  are the source of inspiration for a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune/SignOnSanDiego this weekend. The bicyclists’ determination to continue with their regular cycling activities despite an uptick in drug-related violence (for the most recent development, go here) provides a very real and symbolic depiction of the ways that people find normality during trying times.

At least 150 riders of all ages participate in the Wednesday night ritual, even though they have had to adapt their routes to avoid sections of the city due to crime scenes, according to the article by my former colleague Sandra Dibble. I still have a pending invitation from the group to join them, and I’m hoping to saddle up for one of their Sunday events.

 To learn more about the Ciclopista Tijuana group,  read the article here. 

YouTube video courtesy of AdictusTJ

Tijuana safety tips

picture-3This month, many government agencies and businesses in the Southern California area are educating people to “drop, cover and hold on” when they feel the first tremors of an earthquake. It’s all leading up to an earthquake preparedness drill on Nov 13 dubbed The Great Southern California Shakeout.

South of the border, where earthquakes are the least of the region’s concerns these days,  the Baja California State Preventive Police force is sharing some tips with residents in the event they get caught in the middle of a shooting.

It’s been a particularly violent October in the Tijuana/Rosarito Beach area with reportedly an unprecedented number of dumped bodies and shootings, and in a few cases  the attacks have claimed the lives of  innocent bystanders (a Zeta article profiles four of them). This, of course, isn’t scaring me from going there.  In fact, I feel safer traveling there now than I did when I wrote about the drug cartels as a reporter. Still,  it never hurts to be prepared – for an earthquake or a shootout. Here are some recommendations printed in Tijuana’s Frontera newspaper about what to do if you hear gunfire:

1) Keep at least 100 meters (330 feet) away from police operations and seek out alternative routes.

2) If you are in a car, “duck down, stay calm…and avoid escaping at a high speed,” presumably to prevent losing control of your own car.

3) If you are in the street, “throw yourself on the floor and hide behind trees, posts or cars.”

4) If you are inside a house, “hide behind furniture” and “stay away from the windows” (just like in an earthquake).


Screenshot from Frontera newspaper.

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Body counts in Tijuana and beyond


This past weekend in Tijuana I picked up a copy of the magazine Proceso, which is Mexico’s equivalent of Newsweek or Time. Here are a few of their top headlines:

“What broke out in Morelia.” (How the grenade attack that claimed the lives of eight people in Mexico’s interior during an Independence Day celebration is presumably linked to drug groups) 

“The state of Mexico, dominated by the Zetas and The Family.” (about the interior state, also called Mexico, being taken over by drug groups) 

“Veracruz: the mayors are being extorted by the Zetas.” (focusing on another state where mayors are being corrupted by a drug group)

“Drug trafficking is now a national structure.” (enough said)

Things got worse this week with Tijuana waking up Monday to  16 dumped bodies (and more on Tuesday), most of them showing signs of mutilation commonly linked to drug traffickers.

The drug trade has plenty of victims and accomplices north of the border, but we often forget how the demand for drugs has ravaged Mexico. I tend to see drug-related violence as a parallel universe that doesn’t usually affect the typical visitor, but for those of us who have weaved in and out of its fringes ( in my case, as a reporter based out of Tijuana until 2008), it’s a startling affirmation of responsibility shared. For more musings on this topic, see this post.

For Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s latest response to the developments, go here to a CNN story; For more background on the government crackdown on drug cartels, go to this Los Angeles Times story. 


photo: A graffiti-painted wall provides a colorful background for a Mexican soldier standing guard in Tijuana Tecate. Mexico has increasingly used the military to combat drug traffickers. –photo by Anna Cearley.

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Navajas: Traveling exhibit comes to Tijuana

You won’t find a lot of publicity in Tijuana about the controversial art exhibit, Navajas, in which ostrich parts, images of executions, and dangling dollar bills represent the victims and conspirators of drug trafficking activities and other violent acts.  The exhibit, by Rosa Maria Robles, is running through Oct. 3 at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California.

“What I’m trying to do with Navajas isn’t to create a scandal, nor to provoke just to provoke,” she told the Tijuana weekly Zeta recently. Instead, she said, it’s to “shake up the public…because the violence is growing so terribly.” (read a story here about the most recent outbreak in Mexico’s interior.)

Robles got into a lot of heat last year when she held the original Navajas exhibit in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where she is from. She included blankets that had presumably been used to wrap up and dump victims, a practice that has become so common in border cities like Tijuana that a word was created to describe the body finds: encobijados. Robles’ blood-stained blankets were confiscated by law enforcement authorities, who wanted to know how she got them (she later replaced them with blankets decorated with her own blood). In her interview with the Tijuana weekly Zeta, Robles said she was hoping to get the original blankets back on loan for the exhibit’s future showing in Mexico City.

I get the feeling that Tijuana is understandably sensitive about airing topics like this and scaring off tourists, so I find it somewhat amazing that Navajas (which means ‘knives’ or ‘razors’ in English) is even here. As someone who has written extensively about border crime and violence (and lived in Tijuana safely for two years), I wanted to see the exhibit for myself. I learned later that it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. If you read Spanish, you can see a copy of the Zeta article here, which includes some pictures.

Screenshot from Rosa Maria Robles’ website

Sinaloa’s bad rap hits Tijuana seafood places

The first time I went to a Sinaloan seafood restaurant in Tijuana, I was a little nervous. Based on their reputation, I was prepared for ear-splitting live music and perhaps a gunshot or two.

The state of Sinaloa is considered to be the craddle of Mexican drug trafficking, and I’ve occasionally heard Baja California law enforcement officials bemoan the “Sinaloan factor.” Never mind that Sinaloans here comprise the majority of migrants* from other Mexican states so they are also bound to be your in-laws, neighbors and fruit vendors.

Sinaloan associations have tried to get the public to see the more positive side of their contributions, namely their food, but it’s been a tough sell. I finally went to Negro Durazo** for the first time a few years ago and found the food to be scrumptious: fish and seafood battered in cheese and unbelievably rich sauces. 

This weekend, The New York Times ran a story about how ongoing drug-related violence is affecting people’s lives in large and small ways, and it quotes an unnamed source as saying he’s avoiding Sinaloan restaurants lately for their fair-or-not association with gangster clientele. I know a few people who have avoided Sinaloan food places their entire lives, which is an unfortunate reaction to the convergence of reality and perception.

If you want to try Sinaloan food in Tijuana without the ambience, there’s a mini-branch of Negro Durazo at the Zona Rio mall food court, just a few minutes from the San Ysidro Border on Paseo de Los Heroes,  There’s also a Negro Durazo north of the border, in Chula Vista.

* A study on Baja California migration says 16.6 percent of the state’s residents come from Sinaloa.

**I once tried to get someone at Negro Durazo to explain to me the origin of the nickname, but no one seemed to have an answer. Perhaps the most famous “Negro Durazo” was Arturo Durazo, a controversial Mexican police chief from more than two decades ago, who amassed an illicit fortune.

Hero…or human? A Tijuana story about fighting crime

Tijuana police carImage by Willem van Bergen via Flickr

The New York Times ran a story this weekend about Alberto Capella, the city of Tijuana’s brash top law enforcement official who survived an attack by gunmen on his house last year by repelling them with gunfire before he even started the job.

Prior to his appointment as Secretary of Public Security, Capella had been a rabble-rousing activist who led marches to bring attention to public security problems. Journalists gravitated to him for that perfect quote to counterbalance the latest government official line. Well, now Capella is part of that government and one of his quotes caught my eye as the angle less explored:

“I know what the society thinks about police because I once thought the same thing,” he said. “Now that I’m on the other side, I’m seeing the other side, the sacrifices that police make.”

Being on the other side seems to have given him some perspective. While I have little doubt that Capella’s intentions are good, the power of the criminal underworld here places limits on what a person can do. Telling that story can be extremely difficult, but we all want to believe in a hero and people like him represent hope to the rest of us. For more on why it’s so hard to be a hero in Mexican law enforcement, read this indepth story about Mexicali police officer Jose Luis Montoya.

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The Tijuana mug shot

This is the infamous Tijuana mug shot. When authorities capture suspects here, the detainees are often paraded in front of news photographers. This typically involves a whole level of theatrics with the suspects being forced to stand before their stash of stolen goods or to wield the (presumably unloaded) weapons used to commit the crimes. Sometimes a weak smile emerges in the photos, but most of the time the suspects stare stone-like at the cameras in their awkward poses.

Screenshot from Frontera newspaper.

News: On zebras, subs and bugs

Are Tijuana’s donkeys (the ones that are painted to look like zebras) really endangered?

That’s the question raised by an Associated Press story this week. These kinds of articles show up every so often when there is an uptick in drug-related violence, tourism goes down, and certain media groups start looking for a snazzy new angle. In fact, here’s another story just like it by Reuters from 2006.

I would venture to speculate this time around that there’s another reason for the downsized donkey business: The donkeys are competing against the Tijuana Cow Parade art exhibit that’s also on the tourist strip of Avenida Revolucion. The sculpture cows, after all, don’t charge for photos.

If the drug trade is scaring away business on Avenida Revolucion, don’t expect to get a break in the high seas either. Another story emerged this week about a submarine that was found off the coast of Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, with loads of cocaine. These kinds of subs are typically found off the coast of Colombia, according to news reports, but it looks like now they are migrating north like the whales.

Finally, remember Across the border’s July 1 post about the Tijuana bug at the border? U.S. media were abuzz this week about the Asian citrus phyllids’ potential theat to the California citrus industry while this blog celebrates its first “scoop.”

photo credit: RVforSaleGuide.com

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