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Lack of Authority, Funding and Bad Image Hurt Mexican Police in Drug War

How can you battle the violent drug cartels when you have police departments that are powerless and underfunded like this? The Mexican president hopes to change some of this. We’ll see if he can pull this off.

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By Chris Hawley
Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau
URAUPAN, Mexico — One of the police station’s doors is riddled with bullet holes. Shrapnel from grenades has scarred nearby walls. Inside, a makeshift shrine to the Virgin Mary honors officers who have lost their lives fighting drug traffickers.

So far, it has been a one-sided battle. The police force in Uruapan, a city of 280,000 that sits astride a major smuggling route in the Sierra Madre, doesn’t have a single detective. Mexican law prevents local police from questioning witnesses, doing undercover work or searching homes. The department is so cash-strapped that officers must buy their own bullets, at about 75 cents a pop, for target practice.

“We’re the ones out there every day, the easy targets for the drug traffickers,” says Police Chief Adolfo Medina, whose own house was strafed with gunfire in March. “But we’re handicapped.”

That may be changing. As Mexico’s U.S.-funded drug war reaches new levels of violence, President Felipe Calderon’s government has launched a $1 billion drive to train and equip beleaguered local police forces.

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