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Mexican State's Anti-Corruption Plan: Hire Female Traffic Cops

Sep 28, 2013
Originally published on October 7, 2013 7:25 pm

In the central State of Mexico, officials are trying a new approach to fight corruption.

Authorities have hired hundreds of women and put them in charge of issuing all traffic violations. They're trying to crack down on the famous mordida, or bribe — a favorite among Mexico's crooked traffic cops.

Authorities say women are more trustworthy and less corrupt than men. But the plan has run into a few snags.

Choosing Female Cops

About a dozen women in black uniforms and caps stand at attention. There's a broad neon orange stripe, the color of the new transit police, emblazoned across their chests. Most have matching orange eye shadow and lipstick on, too.

As their commander shouts orders, the women take a quick march around the large concrete esplanade of Ecatepec, the teeming municipality just outside Mexico City.

The all-woman force is part of the Mexico State governor's crusade against corruption, and it's widely advertised on highway billboards, radio and TV.

"Mexico State's traffic police is only made up of women now," says the announcer in one ad, translated here into English. "Remember, they are the only ones authorized to write you a ticket."

"Together we will stop corruption," ends the ad.

Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro says women are much better suited for traffic duty than men because people respect them more.

"When a man is approached by a female cop, even though he is the stronger sex, he calms down and will listen to her," he says.

And, he says, "women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don't ask for or take bribes."

Ortega has only 60 women on his transit force now. He says all have been thoroughly vetted — psychologically and economically — and all are free of drugs. He'd like to hire more.

Has he had trouble recruiting because women in Mexico don't typically consider police work for a career? Is finding childcare a problem because of the long hours?

No, he says, the biggest challenge is finding a woman that portrays a good image. "We get too many short and fat ones," he says. "We need tall women that render respect when out in the streets."

Shortcomings So Far

For now, the women out directing traffic can only issue verbal warnings. They haven't yet been authorized to actually issue tickets.

The state says it won't give the green light to the female force until their local police units put all required anti-corruption safeguards in place. To date none of the agencies have done so, a state official says. The official wryly says it's really hard for police officers to give up their old ways.

Mexico State's governor is so upset about the cops' insolence he's ordered a halt to all ticket-writing in the state, hoping the loss of income will push local officers into compliance.

Meanwhile, driver Diana Mendez isn't optimistic that female cops are the answer to Mexico's corruption problem. She says a woman officer stopped her just a few months ago and threatened to impound Mendez's car unless she paid a bribe.

"I had to pay her the 200 pesos," she says. "But let me tell you, it's not a pleasant thing to do." She says she still feels guilty about contributing to corruption.

Cop Maria Villa Fuerte, who directs traffic on a busy thoroughfare, hopes she'll be given the opportunity to show people that cops can be honest.

Of course, as soon as they give her the opportunity, she adds. And, she says, "that will be much better than just standing here in the middle of the street, blowing a whistle."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Thanks for tuning in. It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Mexican officials are trying a new approach to fight corruption. In the central state of Mexico, authorities have hired hundreds of women and put them in charge of issuing all traffic violations. They're trying to crack down on the famous mordida, a bribe, which is a favorite among Mexico's crooked traffic cops.

Authorities say women are more trustworthy and less corruptible than men. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the anticorruption plan has run into a few snags.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: About a dozen women in black uniforms and caps stand at attention. There's a broad neon orange stripe, the color of the new transit police, emblazoned across their chests. Most have matching orange eye shadow and lipstick on too.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: As their commander shouts orders, the women take a quick march around the large concrete esplanade of Ecatepec. That's the teeming municipality of three million just outside Mexico City.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: The all-woman force is part of the Mexico state governor's crusade against corruption, widely advertised on highway billboards, radio and TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

KAHN: Mexico state's traffic police is only made up of women now, says the announcer. Remember, they are the only ones authorized to write you a ticket.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

KAHN: Together, we will stop corruption, ends the ad. Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro says he believes women are much better suited for traffic duty then men.

CARLOS ORTEGA CARPINTEYRO: (Through translator) And men respect them more too. When a man is approached by a female cop, even though he is the stronger sex, he calms down and will listen to her. We also found that women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don't ask for or take bribes.

KAHN: Ortega has only 60 women on his transit force now. He says all have been thoroughly vetted, psychologically and economically, and all are free of drugs. He'd like to hire more. So I asked him if he's had trouble recruiting because women in Mexico don't typically consider police work for a career or is finding child care a problem because of the long hours. No, he says. The biggest challenge is finding a woman that portrays a good image.

CARPINTEYRO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: We get too many short and fat ones, he says. We need tall women that render respect when out in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

KAHN: Unfortunately for now, the women out directing traffic can only issue verbal warnings. They haven't been authorized to actually issue tickets. The state says it won't give the green light to the female force until their local police units put all the required anti-corruption safeguards in place. A state official says, to date, none of the agencies have done so. The official wryly says it's really hard for police officers to give up their old ways. The governor of the state of Mexico is so upset about the cops' insolence he's ordered a halt to all ticket writing in the state, hoping the loss of income will push local officers into compliance.

Meanwhile, driver Diana Mendez isn't optimistic that female cops are the answer to Mexico's corruption problem. She says a woman officer stopped her just a few months ago and threatened to impound Mendez's car unless she paid a bribe.

DIANA MENDEZ: Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: I had to pay her the 200 pesos, she said. But let me tell you it's not a pleasant thing to do. She says she still feels guilty about contributing to corruption.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

KAHN: Cop Maria Villa Fuerte, who's directing traffic on a busy thoroughfare, hopes she'll be given the opportunity to show people that cops can be honest.

MARIA VILLA FUERTE: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Of course, she adds. As soon as they give me the opportunity, I'll do it the right way. And she says that will be much better than just standing here in the middle of the street blowing a whistle.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.