After announcing at various times in the past few weeks, first, that the armed forces would stay at least until December, possibly next March, and then, that it would stay indefinitely into the future, Mayor José Reyes Ferriz announced yesterday in a press conference that the army that has occupied Cd. Juárez for 18 months now will begin a gradual withdrawal from the city, as initially planned, beginning September 1 of this year. Last Thursday, according to a story in Norte today, by Francisco Lujan, Governor José Reyes Baeza had announced that the withdrawal of the armed forces would begin in January.
There have been ongoing discussions for several months now between the federal government, the army, and public security authorities in Cd. Juárez about various matters, including the need to adopt new strategies and tactics in the face of a return of severe violence, and the length of stay of the army in Juárez. The municipal government is paying for the Juárez-based costs of Joint Operation Chihuahua (the army is operating in Chihuahua City as well) and there has been an increase in criticism that the presence of armed forces has been relatively ineffective in stopping homicides and a strong spike in other serious crimes as well. In addition there has been a rise in citizen complaints about misbehavior of soldiers. Apparently city officials have concluded it may be time for the armed forces to leave the city.
From the beginning Joint Operation Chihuahua was explained to the public as a temporary measure to give time for the city to train a cadre of about 3000 municipal police, doubling it's size, a measure that was scheduled to end in September of this year. The army in March of this year replaced most municipal police and took over all command positions within the organization. The city then began a crash program at the municipal police academy to train 2700 police officers in groups numbering about 600 at a time.
My rough calculation in late July was that the homicide rate for Cd. Juárez this year, when translated to a per-capita basis, is about 140 homicides per 100,000 population, making Juárez the homicide capital of the Western Hemisphere, surpassing Caracas, Venezuela, which had a homicide rate in 2008 of 130 per 100,000. Baltimore and Detroit lead the murder rates in the U.S., with rates of 45 and 46 per 100,000, respectively.
Yesterday it was announced that a cohort group of about 650 newly trained municipal police officers were merged into city patrol functions by the military, after receiving an additional four weeks of military training at a training center run by the defense ministry in Santa Gertrudis, Chihuahua. In a story by Hérika Martínez Prado today in Norte, with the incorporation of these officers 1176 officers have now received training this year at the military base, while a third group will be sent there in September. During the four weeks of training officers are trained in weapons handling, weapons assembly and disassembly, vehicle-to-vehicle combat, human rights, and map training to improve knowledge of the city. Each officer trained in Santa Gertrudis costs the city of Juárez $50,000 pesos, about $3700 U.S.
At the present moment there are 750 cadets in the police academy now, who will be graduating in the second week in September. This will raise the total number of trained officers to 2700 and another 400 are scheduled for training in October, raising the total number to 3100.
Mayor Reyes Ferriz indicated that as the army begins to withdraw from Juárez the police department will be managed by municipal police, not the armed forces, which is now the case. "This doesn't mean we don't need the army. The support we have received from the army has been extremely valuable in enabling us to restructure and fortify the municipal police," he said. "With our new police force in place, we will be able to ask the army to perform other functions which we are designing and which are important under the agreements we signed in Joint Operation Chihuahua," he added. The military convoys that have been prevalent during all of Joint Operation Chihuahua will end, replaced by civilian police officers who will patrol in their own automobiles, in pairs.