msnbc.com news services
updated 11/12/2010 3:30:32 PM ET 2010-11-12T20:30:32

Gunmen have killed so many police and local officials in some areas of Mexico bordering Texas that few are willing to take the posts anymore — leading several women to occupy roles traditionally dominated by men.

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In two northern hamlets, Villa Luz and El Vergel, women were elected as community security leaders this week after men declined to run out of fear.

Both towns are near the southern edge of Ciudad Juarez, where drug violence has claimed over 4,000 lives in the last two years, giving the city one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Olga Herrera Castillo, the new head of security for Villa Luz and a 43-year-old mother of five, said Wednesday that "sometimes I am afraid, but people encourage me and I lose my fear."

Her job will largely consist of filing reports after crimes occur, because Samalayuca has only 2,500 inhabitants, one patrol vehicle and a handful of police officers — none of them permanently assigned to the hamlet.

Veronica Rios Ontiveros will be in charge of the police department in Villa Luz.

Last month, 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia was sworn in as police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, east of Ciudad Juarez, despite not having finished her criminology degree.

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The Juarez region has been sucked into the spiraling violence, rapidly becoming a no man's land where people are abandoning towns despite an army presence.

Drug violence has killed almost 7,000 people in and around Ciudad Juarez since early 2008, while more than 31,000 people have died across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on drug cartels in December 2006.

Bloodshed has exploded around Ciudad Juarez as local cartel boss Vicente Carrillo Fuentes fights off an offensive by Mexico's No. 1 fugitive drug lord, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.

Calderon has pledged to reform Mexico's police and provide better salaries that are often as low as $300 a month. He wants Congress to approve a plan to put municipal police control in the hands of the country's 32 state governments.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: Mexico's drug-trafficking landscape

Video: Woman, 20, is Mexico’s newest police chief

  1. Closed captioning of: Woman, 20, is Mexico’s newest police chief

    >>> south of the border no one else wanted, the police chief of a mexican border town where drug wars are raging. you'd never guess who just stepped up to accept the position. here's nbc's mark potter .

    >> reporter: a twenty-year-old college student and mother might be the bravest woman in mexico these days or as some worry the moos fool hardy. in a violent region overrun by drug traffickers she has agreed to become the police chief of a tiny town . in a news conference, she said, i accepted because i like the project. i want to cooperate. i want to live with my people, my family, my community. but the town mayor sitting by her side said it was a job no one else wanted. it is just down the road from wjuarez juarez, mexico from el paso texas and considered the most dangerous city in the world because of all the murders there. 280 last year alone.

    >> most people by now have witnessed a killing and execution, body found in alley or ditch or street. i think they're traumatized.

    >> reporter: other villages nearby have become ghost towns , residents pushed out by traffickers. this woman says she is too young and inexperienced to be police chief but she says she won't be intimidated and wants her son to grow up in a safe town. she also says she won't fight drug trafficking , leaving that to other authorities and instead, will consecrated on crime prevention in a region where crime is out of control. for today, mark

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