JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – The state of Chihuahua is bringing the fight home to organized criminal gangs by permanently relocating its police headquarters to Juarez.

The new building on Eje Vial Juan Gabriel will house dozens of additional state police officers focused on intelligence-gathering and special operations in a city where reducing drug-related violence is a priority, Attorney General Roberto Fierro said.

Business leaders, frustrated that drug massacres and the proliferation of crystal methamphetamine sales are tarnishing the image of their city, welcomed the move.

“We have extraordinary problems and urgently need extraordinary resources. We believe this relocation is in line with our needs,” said Guillermo Asiain, head of Mesa de Seguridad, a Juarez citizens’ public safety advisory group. “It’s not just about reducing the number (of murders), it’s about solving crimes and doing away with impunity.”

Drug violence has spiked in Juarez in the past three years, as drug gangs not only shoot it out for control of trafficking routes to the United States, but also fight for exclusivity in drug distribution in the city’s working-class neighborhoods.

The new Chihuahua State Police Headquarters in Juarez. (Border Report photo)

“Our city has an illness, and that is the use of mind-altering substances. We have a strong problem with crystal (meth) and other chemical substances. It’s a public health problem that leads to a public safety issue,” Aisain said.

Mexico’s Public Safety Minister Icela Rodriguez and Interior Minister Adan Augusto Lopez were in Juarez on Thursday to inaugurate the building and take part in a public safety forum.

They also watched a video presentation by Chihuahua Gov. Maru Campos on a planned 20-story police intelligence and surveillance tower from where police will monitor thousands of new surveillance cameras and license plate readers. Additional plans for the “Sentinel Initiative” include drones, face-recognition technology, and patrol cars equipped with tablets linked to crime databases.

Juarez Mayor Cruz Perez Cuellar used the occasion to ask the federal officials for more police officers. Their response? A rebuke.

Mixed messages from Mexico City

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2018 made no secret that he did not believe in engaging in a protracted war with the powerful drug cartels operating in Mexico. He cited the bloodbaths of the Felipe Calderon administration (2006-2012) as proof hardline methods don’t work.

But the president’s so-called “Hugs, not bullets” approach may not be working, either. Homicides in Mexico have soared, cartel violence remains blatant in some states and Juarez, where remnants of the old Juarez cartel called La Linea are regaining ground, homicides have spiked since 2018.

On Thursday, when Perez Cuellar suggested his police force is a couple of hundred officers short to effectively patrol the city, Interior Minister Lopez told him to make do with what he has, which is about 2,500 municipal officers.

“I think Juarez and Chihuahua City have left behind the dark, irrational violence of 2006 to 2009 and I think they will succeed,” Lopez said. He pledged the administration’s assistance on social spending programs to ensure young people on the border don’t turn to crime.

Juarez in the late 2000s and early 2010s experienced its most violent years, with more than 3,000 homicides recorded in 2010, when the Sinaloa cartel moved into the city and all but wiped out the old Juarez cartel.

Asiain of the citizens’ group welcomed the federal officials’ offer on social programs but agrees with Perez Cuellar that Juarez needs more police officers.

“During our period of greatest peace, which was 2013-2014, we had nearly 10,000 police officers on duty. Right now, between city, state and the army, we have about half of that,” Aisiain said. “We need more police, but we also need that balance (Lopez) mentioned. Not all is police work, we also have to attack the root causes of the violence, reduce the conditions that lead people to commit crimes.”

That includes bringing jobs to neighborhoods that lack enough, building parks and sponsoring sports leagues, as well as providing educational opportunities to teenagers.

Public Safety Minister Rodriguez said Mexico remains committed to working with the United States on mutual safety initiatives like the Bicentennial Framework. But she emphasized the need to stem weapons trafficking from the United States to Mexico and said some of the violence in her country is due to America’s drug cravings.

“In the United States, we all know there is a problem of (drug) consumption, while in Mexico — for the same reason — we have acts of violence due to the infighting between criminal groups looking to control the trafficking of drugs,” she said. “That is why it’s important for both nations to face these challenges, and we do so convinced that we are neighbors, partners and in some regions we are family, too.”