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Mexican State's Anti-Corruption Plan: Hire Female Traffic Cops

Dressed in the black and neon orange colors of the new transit police, these women are slated to replace a force of notoriously corrupt traffic cops in Mexico State.
Edith Chapin
Dressed in the black and neon orange colors of the new transit police, these women are slated to replace a force of notoriously corrupt traffic cops in Mexico State.

In the central State of Mexico, officials are trying a new approach to fight corruption.

Authoritieshave hired hundreds of women and put them in charge of issuing all traffic violations. They're trying to crack down on the famous mordida, or bribe — a favorite among Mexico's crooked traffic cops.

Authorities say women are more trustworthy and less corrupt than men. But the plan has run into a few snags.

Choosing Female Cops

About a dozen women in black uniforms and caps stand at attention. There's a broad neon orange stripe, the color of the new transit police, emblazoned across their chests. Most have matching orange eye shadow and lipstick on, too.

As their commander shouts orders, the women take a quick march around the large concrete esplanade of Ecatepec, the teeming municipality just outside Mexico City.

The all-woman force is part of the Mexico State governor's crusade against corruption, and it's widely advertised on highway billboards, radio and TV.

"Mexico State's traffic police is only made up of women now," says the announcer in one ad, translated here into English. "Remember, they are the only ones authorized to write you a ticket."

"Together we will stop corruption," ends the ad.

Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro says women are much better suited for traffic duty than men because people respect them more.

"When a man is approached by a female cop, even though he is the stronger sex, he calms down and will listen to her," he says.

And, he says, "women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don't ask for or take bribes."

Ortega has only 60 women on his transit force now. He says all have been thoroughly vetted — psychologically and economically — and all are free of drugs. He'd like to hire more.

Has he had trouble recruiting because women in Mexico don't typically consider police work for a career? Is finding childcare a problem because of the long hours?

No, he says, the biggest challenge is finding a woman that portrays a good image. "We get too many short and fat ones," he says. "We need tall women that render respect when out in the streets."

Shortcomings So Far

For now, the women out directing traffic can only issue verbal warnings. They haven't yet been authorized to actually issue tickets.

The state says it won't give the green light to the female force until their local police units put all required anti-corruption safeguards in place. To date none of the agencies have done so, a state official says. The official wryly says it's really hard for police officers to give up their old ways.

Mexico State's governor is so upset about the cops' insolence he's ordered a halt to all ticket-writing in the state, hoping the loss of income will push local officers into compliance.

Meanwhile, driver Diana Mendez isn't optimistic that female cops are the answer to Mexico's corruption problem. She says a woman officer stopped her just a few months ago and threatened to impound Mendez's car unless she paid a bribe.

"I had to pay her the 200 pesos," she says. "But let me tell you, it's not a pleasant thing to do." She says she still feels guilty about contributing to corruption.

Cop Maria Villa Fuerte, who directs traffic on a busy thoroughfare, hopes she'll be given the opportunity to show people that cops can be honest.

Of course, as soon as they give her the opportunity, she adds. And, she says, "that will be much better than just standing here in the middle of the street, blowing a whistle."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.