Student named police chief in Mexican town

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LISA MULLINS: Taxes and fiscal responsibility are big issues in Mexico, too. But, not surprisingly, it's drug-related violence that tops the Mexican political agenda. More than 28,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on the country's drug cartels. That was four years ago. Part of the traffickers' response has been to murder police officers, at all levels of Mexican law enforcement. And that's making it increasingly tough to find new recruits. Take the case of a small town just south of the Texas border in the state of Chihuahua. The town's police chief was gunned down in July 2009. Since then, the mayor has struggled to find anybody to fill the dead man's shoes. Until this week. The World's William Troop has our story.

WILLIAM TROOP: Praxedis Guerrero is a small town of about 4,000 residents. But it has big problems with drug traffickers. Two major drug cartels are fighting for control of the area, and their gunmen regularly come through town. The murder of the local police chief last year was not an isolated incident. The deputy mayor of a nearby town, El Porvenir, was killed just this month, along with his son. Another local official was gunned down in June. So no wonder Praxedis mayor Jose Luis Guerrero spent over a year looking for someone willing to become the new police chief.


TROOP: We just couldn't find anyone, Guerrero says. So the mayor asked the public for suggestions. One response came from Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20-year-old studying criminology in college. She didn't have a degree yet, nor any actual experience, except for a stint as a police department secretary. But she did have a vision of deterring crime before it happens by promoting civic values and improving community relations. Her project impressed the mayor so much, he asked Valles to implement it herself, as the new police chief. Valles says she agreed because she's eager to do something, anything, to help out.


MARISOL VALLES GARCIA: I accepted the job because I liked the project and I wanted to collaborate with everyone, so that I can live in peace with my family, my community, the people from my town.

TROOP: Putting a young woman in charge of security in one of Mexico's most violent states has already raised some machista eyebrows in the country. One newspaper asked, are there no men in Chihuahua? But Valles thinks being a woman is a plus. She says people trust women more and she plans to hire more female officers to go door-to-door in Praxedis and talk to families. Valles understands people are afraid. But she says she won't let fear control her actions.


GARCIA: I've never thought like that. Whether I'm here today but not tomorrow. I'm here now, and now is all that matters, and I'm going to stick to my plan. We are going to do crime prevention, visit homes and share experiences with families. My focus is to promote families and strengthen family values.

TROOP: Part of Valles' plan is that most of her officers will not carry weapons. They'll be more like outreach workers. But she does concede that her new line of work puts her in the sights of ruthless drug traffickers, who have not hesitated to kill local officials before. So the new police chief in Praxedis Guerrero, Chihuahua, will be escorted from now on by two armed bodyguards. For The World, I'm William Troop.