Oct 12, 2015

Why crimes are rarely reported in Mexico

El Daily Post: Don’t bother. Over at Vice News, Andrea Noel tells a horrifying story about getting mugged in Mexico and then trying to report the crime. Here’s a taste: “Back in Mexico, I went into my nearest prosecutor's office last Monday, hoping to file a new police report and lodge a complaint against the attendant who had pressed me into lying on official documents. When I got to where I needed to be, the official behind the counter told me I would have to go to a different district to try to file a complaint. I was informed that the process would take at least 20 days, and I would likely face charges for signing erroneous documents. I jumped into another cab and made my way to the next prosecutor's office, conveniently located in an area far sketchier than the one I was originally mugged in. "What you are admitting to is a very serious offense," one officer said, nodding for me to follow him toward the curb. "If you file that complaint you'll be in pretty real trouble. It is cause for automatic arrest." He then lowered his voice, adding: "I would go home if I were you."… I decided to call it quits.”

Explaining complexity. Why is it so darn difficult to file a crime report in Mexico? Two reasons:

1. Design: in most countries, to report a crime, you just walk to the nearest police station, fill out a simple form, answer a few questions, and off you go. You won’t be bothered again unless a suspect is caught. Not so in Mexico. First, you don’t go to a police station, but to the Agencia del Ministerio Público, i.e., a branch of the state Attorney General’s Office that corresponds to the location where the crime took place. Second, you have to go through an hours-long grilling, while someone transcribes your every word. Third, a few days later, you have to return to ratify the initial report. Otherwise, the Ministerio Público (MP) will not open an averiguación previa (preliminary investigation) or a carpeta de investigación (investigation folder), i.e., no one will lift a finger. Some states (and the Federal District) have tried to make the process simpler by allowing victims to file the initial report online, but even in those cases, the aggrieved party needs to ratify the report in person at the Agencia.

2. Policy: as Andrea Noel describes very well in her piece, pretty much everyone in the system will try to deter you from filing a crime report. Why? Because politicians and law enforcement officials, abetted by part of the media and some NGOs, use crime reports as a performance metric. From their perspective, fewer crime reports means success, even if the underlying crime rate is going up. And that attitude seeps down the system. Employees at the Agencias del Ministerio Público know they will be judged negatively (and maybe even fired) if they let too many reports in. So they create all sorts of artificial obstacles. Read more.

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