While it is not a major problem in Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point), a small amount of police corruption can still have a big impact on tourism. There have been several high profile stories in the Arizona media in the last year about police stopping tourists in Puerto Peñasco for minor violations or even for no reason, and then asking for bribes to "make the problem go away." Tourists usually have little knowledge about what to do or who to call if they feel they have been treated unfairly - so they usually just pay the bribe and move on. The tourists are in no danger of being harmed, but it can be a scary situation for someone who is in a foreign country, may not speak the language and may have some commonly-held (but often untrue) negative perceptions about Mexican police. And it is an experience that will be repeated to friends and other potential visitors to Puerto Peñasco, thus hurting tourism.
For more information on what is being done, click below to read on...
What Is Being Done
Local developers and businessmen know that even one incident like this that gets widely reported can have a major negative impact on tourism in Puerto Peñasco. So they have recently held several meetings with the chief of police and heads of security in town to try to figure out a way to battle any corruption. The latest edition of Defrente has two articles that talk about these efforts. They can be read here and here. It sounds like informational flyers will be distributed to tourists in Spanish and English to assist them in the case of a police stop where they feel they are being treated unfairly or asked for bribes. I am assuming these flyers will give tips both on properly obeying laws to avoid stops in the first place (and important point Americans need to comply with) and on dealing with police in the case of unfair treatment or bribes (i.e., do NOT pay police bribes, do ask to speak to an English speaking officer, do go to the police station to handle the situation if necessary and do get officer name and patrol car number and report any corruption).
Police units are also going to be fitted with GPS trackers so dispatchers know where they are at all times, thus creating better tracking of their whereabouts and an ability to respond to calls quickly.
Finally, for people who do not know, the chief of police in Puerto Peñasco stepped down earlier this summer and a new outside chief was hired to come in and handle any corruption. So progress is being made and the issue is at the forefront for city leaders.
What Else Needs to Be Done
In my view this is a start, but more needs to be done. While some flyers will help, I think a card that can be carried in a wallet and contains basic information on obeying laws in Mexico, important public safety phone numbers, procedures to be followed with police and a map to the police station would be helpful. These wallet-sized cards could be handed out at all resorts, major condo rental companies, hotels, tourism agencies, gas stations and restaurants. Police would also be given this card and told to expect tourists to refer to it during a traffic stop. If this card was made widely available over the course of a year and tourists (and police) follow the procedures, I think it will help the police get the point and stop the practice of asking for bribes. Information is power for tourists and this will serve as a short-term, supply-side solution.
On the demand side, the reason police look for bribes is that they don't get paid very much and often see an opportunity to make some extra money from well-off tourists. Making an example of a few corrupt police by firing them would certainly provide a chilling effect on the practice (and should be done where necessary). However, a longer term solution is to train a tourism police force to help manage the tourism boom. An incentive structure needs to be implemented where town police can get the training necessary to become an upper tier of police that are paid more and deal regularly with tourists. Police could be trained to be bilingual, helping tourists with directions, arbitrating any low level disputes with business or restaurant owners and generally being available to make the tourism experience a pleasant one. Ideally, this police force would be employed by the state so they outrank the local police force and they would be trained by the state tourism commission, Sonora Turismo, to be sensitive to touristic concerns. These police should be highly visible in tourist areas such as Old Port/Malecon, Matamoros Street, Sandy Beach and Las Conchas, should be on foot where possible interacting with tourists and should not be visibly carrying firearms. They should be available to respond to and mediate/translate in situations where tourists are stopped by non-tourist police. And they should also be trained to be lenient and give warnings where necessary before unnecessarily carting people off to jail. This tourism training would help out all police and would reward the top police officers with appointment to the tourism police force and better pay and benefits.
From personal experience with police, I know they are just trying to do their job and support their families. I don't think they mean any ill will. However, any corruption that exists must be handled in order for Puerto Peñasco to thrive. Educating tourists on Mexican laws and in dealing with police will help in the short term and implementing tourism training for police and creating a tourist police force will provide a long term solution to effectively address any current problems.
Let me know your thoughts or if you have any other suggestions...