It’s a remarkable turn of events that Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20-year-old criminology student, has taken on the position of chief of police in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, bordering Texas. Praxedis G. Guerrero is located in the Juarez Valley, 35 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez, called “the bloodiest city in Mexico”, with a reported 2,500 people killed in cartel-related violence so far this year. At night, drug gangs take over, and most of the police buildings in surrounding towns have been abandoned.
Marisol Valles Garcia was the only applicant for the job according to most news outlets, although the UK Guardian reported that the town’s mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero, said she was the most qualified of a handful of applicants. The Guardian added that in many parts of Mexico, it is “considered tantamount to a death sentence”. Valles Garcia’s plan is to have a dozen or so mostly female, unarmed officers “out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families”. This plan is both touching and pragmatic, as the force currently consists of “13 agents, nine of them women, with one working patrol car, three automatic rifles and a pistol”.
Valles Garcia told CNN en Español, “The weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention” and “[o]ur work will be pure prevention. We are not going to be doing anything else other than prevention”.
According to CNN, Valles Garcia “aims to establish programs in neighborhoods and schools, to win back security in public spaces and to foster greater cooperation among neighbors so they can form watch committees”.
I wonder how the reported plan for an unarmed, mostly female patrol was developed. Yes, it is pragmatic, but since Valles Garcia has also been assigned two body guards, and there’s been a fair amount of media attention, presumably other resources could have been appropriated for the town. So let’s say it is a choice. There’s a long history of unarmed patrols of course – does anyone have those references handy? In March 2010, there was the “Female approach to Peacekeeping” article in the NYTimes, about an all-women United Nations police unit from India, in Liberia. I did a quick search for precedents as well and saw that Manila had an “all-women mobile patrol” group that monitored malls during the Christmas season. Actually, most of the stories on women police officers were from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
That an untested college student was the best option, considering the crime and violence in the region, surely says something – about her stunning bravery, about the failure of traditional approaches, about the desperate conditions there. There’s nothing to say that Valles Garcia didn’t just decide to do this on her own though. Maybe she is drawing on ideas from her criminology classes.