Mexican Drug Cartel Targets Police

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Marco Werman: The police force is also under siege in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez. Every cop on the force has been ordered to leave his or her home and move into well-defended hotels. A drug cartel has threatened to kill one policeman a day in Juarez, and at least eight have been killed so far this year. Angela Kocherga has been reporting the story for the Texas-based new organization Belo. She's now back in El Paso. So, the cops are the ones who are supposed to protect people. Now, they're getting protected. What's going on, Angela, why have the cops been targeted?

Angela Kocherga: Yeah, they're really working double duty. They're protecting the city and each other around the clock. Basically, you have a drug cartel calling itself the New Juarez Cartel, according to the police chief, that's targeting the officers in an effort to force the police chief to step down, saying they'll kill an officer a day. And they have until recently pretty much carried out that threat. They've been killing officers, mostly off duty, which is why they've decided when these officers are trying to sleep or get some rest they're gonna put them in these guarded hotels.

Werman: So how is this working? How many hotels are being used and how crowded are the rooms?

Kocherga: Well, they're being very secretive about how many hotels, but it's pretty easy to tell as you drive around which ones. We went to one called Del Rio, which is housing a majority, a big chunk of the police force, not all of them. And the officers you know, they've got heavily guarded officers standing outside, so you can pretty much tell where they are. The officers told me, and they were reluctant to speak openly about this, that they're being crowded into as many as seven per room. And of course, these are officers that have homes and families, so they're unhappy about being stuck in hotels.

Werman: Well, I was gonna say, presumably it's not hard for the cartels to find out where these police officers homes are, what about the families of the police men and women? They must be as concerned, maybe even more so than the police who are in the hotels.

Kocherga: Yeah, definitely, some of the police officers that I spoke to said they were dealing with just the day to day childcare, which they're also worried about their families; that the cartels have great intelligence. They can certainly track down the family members. They also seem to think that some of the killings are targeted. One police officer I talked to had been stopped on the way home; her path had been blocked. She had been hit with the butt of an AK47, had a big bruise on her forehead, but she said when she explained who she was the hit man seemed to understand she wasn't their target and they moved on to another person.

Werman: You know, the drug cartels are not known for being timid, is there a concern they'd actually try and attack any of these hotels if they found out where they were?

Kocherga: They probably know where they are. They seem to have been kind of a hit you know, kind of surprise attacks, so it would be hard to come upon one of these hotels with all the guards outside and attack. They tend to attack when they cops' guards are down. They look for opportunities. The other morning we had some police officers at a gas station filling up right near a substation and that's when they came under fire. And actually, the gunman tossed a grenade at the officers. It failed to detonate, so you didn't have a big explosion, but you did have a firefight; three gunmen killed and three officers injured, and a suspect taken into custody.

Werman: Angela, I was reading that the cartel gets it messages out using giant banners. What do they look like and where do they hang them?

Kocherga: This is very common throughout Mexico and utilized by different cartels. It's been a very effective way to send out a message to the government, to law enforcement, to their rival cartels and to the general public. And these are just big banners they unfurl, handwritten with messages, usually very targeted, very directed. The most recent ones, there were allegedly 10 banners out there throughout Juarez hung in public places, directed at the police chief, saying they're pretty much gonna kill an officer a day until he steps down. Now, just so you know, that technique, that threat did work on the previous police chief. He did leave. He left and it took a while to get this new police chief and he has vowed he will not leave his job, he will not bow down to threats.

Werman: Angela Kocherga, border bureau chief for Belo News, just back from Cuidad Juarez, thank you very much for your time.

Kocherga: Thank you.