Safety — Police

Safety: No Thanks to the Police

POLICE HAVE LITTLE TO DO WITH CREATING A SENSE OF SAFETY IN MEXICO. There are tons of different police in Mexico, and even Mexicans don’t seem to understand them. Here is a breakdown that might help you out.

TRAFFIC POLICE (POLICÍA DE TRÁNSITO) The police with whom you are likely to have the most contact are the traffic police. Blatant corruption and lack of training, and rock bottom salaries among traffic police reduces the expectation of safety in Mexico. These are the guys who stop you when you are driving, invent an infraction, and ask for a bribe.

They often set up road blocks on highways between two larger cities. At these road blocks, they flag you down and invent an infraction. Common belief says that they can confiscate your car and keep it at their station. This gives them the power to extract a bribe from you. If you challenge the validity of the infraction that they have invented, they remind you that they can keep your car while you file your complaint and wait for a judge to decide in your favor. Normally people don’t refuse the bribe while on a trip out of town. One Mexican I know did. He told his wife to pack up their 6-month-old baby and their things: they were going to take a bus. The officer let them go.

If you aren’t brave enough to call their bluff while out of town, the smartest thing you can do before setting out on an inter-city trip is to put 50 pesos in your pocket, remove all of your cash from your wallet, and hide it. If a police officer flags you down and begins to give you a ticket (this is how they open the topic of the bribe), you can say that all you have is 50 pesos.

On the other hand, if you want to fight corruption, you can definitely do it while inside your home city. In Cuernavaca, the police generally ask for 100 to 200 pesos, depending on the infraction committed. Usually people give around 50 pesos per bribe. One day my husband was stopped for not wearing his seat belt. The officer told him that he would have to go pay a 200 peso ticket at the police department, implying that it might be better to make a counter offer, and end the whole situation right there on the street. Well, my husband told him that he wouldn’t participate in corruption and to go ahead and write up the ticket. Much to his surprise when he went to pay the ticket the service was quick and friendly and best of all, the ticket was only 50 pesos!

FEDERAL POLICE (POLICÍA JUDICIAL) These men decrease my feeling of safety whenever they are around. They dress in black and ride around in the backs of official pick-up trucks, carrying large weapons. They deal with big things like shootings. They are the muscle and are famous for having too much testosterone. Do not talk to these men.

METROPOLITAN POLICE (POLICÍA METROPOLITANA, also called POLICÍA PREVENTIVA) This is a group of police hired by each city. We have no idea what they prevent–could it be safety itself? They also often direct traffic and fall under the description of traffic police above.

FEDERAL HIGHWAY POLICE (POLICÍA FEDERAL DE CAMINOS) These guys can stop you anywhere on federal roads. They usually check for bad driving and vehicles carrying loads. They won’t stop on smaller roads because those are state jurisdiction.

STATE POLICE These guys can stop you on smaller roads. They also check for unsafe driving and loads.

THE ARMY These guys are not police, but are included here because sometimes they have roadside checkpoints, particularly in “wild” places like Chiapas. They are looking for drug traffickers. They are mostly around 18 years old and dressed all in green. They are considered honest and not a threat to safety.

Generally they just flag you on by. Sometimes they stop buses and check the passengers’ documents to be sure they are in Mexico legally and don’t show whatever signs drug traffickers show. Sometimes this operation includes getting all of the men off of the bus for a more thorough “inspection.” They might let the bus drive on without one of its passengers, if they want to question the person more. I doubt they would do that to a tourist.

Occasionally, there are “judiciales” (see above) in black or plain clothes mixed in with the army boys. Since they are federal police, they can handle all sorts of illegal activity. Officially, they are looking for drugs or maybe illegal immigrants. Unofficially, they are looking for victims. If they think they can take advantage of someone they will make up some excuse about they’re ID not being official or whatever they can cook up on the spot. If the person looks nervous, they can get them down off of the bus, or out of their car and stick them for a bribe.

You increase your safety by not acting like a victim. My husband and I have noticed that avoiding eye contact with them is a good idea. Also, if they do question you, be firm about your documents and reasons for being where you are.

TOURIST POLICE Let’s end this page on a positive note. These guys are there to help you. Not all cities have them, but those with a large population of tourists do. I’ve seen them in Mexico City at a parade. An officer stepped in front the crowd to protect the people from an out of control horse that couldn’t stop on the pavement. This officer’s ankle was broken in the line of duty and he was carried into the crew transport van on a stretcher.

Another tourist police officer helped my husband and me when a scooter rental guy on Isla de las Mujeres wouldn’t give us our money back even though the scooter broke down twice and left us stranded on the opposite side of the island. Tourist Police do increase safety.

If you can handle frightening news, read about how police themselves lack safety.

Back to safety through the people



  1. Jared Vanblankenstein Nov 30

    Do you know how I can become a tourist police in Tijuana?? I speak mainly English, but I’m a mexican citizen. I’m sure i’d need to learn spanish better, But I am positive that I could be a big help to American Citizens in Tijuana. I will be finished with my Criminal Justice Degree in June!! Please respond. It sounds like you are From Mexico and any information would be great!

    Las Vegas, NV

  2. Julia Taylor Nov 30


    I’m sorry, I don’t know how to go about becoming a member of the tourist police, but I just did a quick search on the internet and found an article in USA Today that might give you some ideas on how to find out more:

    Congratulations on your upcoming graduation.

    Kindest Regards,

    Julia C Taylor

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