Mexico returns guns to disarmed Tijuana police

/ Source: The Associated Press

Police in this violent border city got their guns back Saturday three weeks after they were forced to turn over weapons to federal authorities because of allegations they were colluding with drug traffickers.

Tijuana Public Safety Secretary Luis Javier Algorri said soldiers returned all 2,130 guns to his department.

He planned to send a letter to the attorney general’s office asking for the results of the investigation so he could clear up any doubts about his officers. No one from the attorney general’s office was available for comment Saturday.

The officers handed in their guns Jan. 4 after President Felipe Calderon sent 3,300 soldiers and federal police to Tijuana to hunt down drug gangs. The soldiers swept police stations and took officers’ guns for inspection to see if they had been used to protect smugglers who traffic drugs into the U.S.

‘Operation Tijuana’
Tijuana police initially stopped patrols after their guns were taken, saying it was too dangerous, but most later returned to work. In some cases, officers were accompanied by armed state police. Others patrolled in larger numbers than normal. One officer was seen holding a slingshot that he said was for his protection.

Algorri said the drastic action put the city’s safety at risk and cut in half the number of arrests made in January compared to the same period last year. Five officers were injured by assailants who took advantage of them being unarmed, he said.

In several neighborhoods, residents took the law into their own hands, grabbing suspects off the street and tying them up before calling police to haul them off.

Dubbed “Operation Tijuana,” the initiative was part of a major military offensive launched by Calderon against drug gangs. The president, who took office Dec. 1 promising to crack down on organized crime, has sent more than 24,000 troops to states plagued by execution-style killings and beheadings as rival gangs fight over marijuana plantations and smuggling routes.

Trail of bloodshed
Drug gangs were blamed for more than 2,000 murders nationwide in 2006 and have left a particularly bloody trail in Tijuana, where more than 300 people were slain last year.

Meanwhile, six federal police officers involved in Calderon’s anti-drug operation were being investigated for extortion after they were videotaped Jan. 17 taking money from a driver in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego.

The video, recorded by the Tijuana police department, shows the officers at a checkpoint stopping a motorist and searching his vehicle. After a discussion, the motorist was shown giving the police a handful of cash including at least one $100 bill.