The Police, A Mirror of our Society?

Yesterday I was invited to dinner by a Canadian friend who lives in Mexico. Between the pasta and the wine, our conversation focused on an incident she had during the weekend, when local policeman asked her and her boyfriend for “a bite” – as explained in my latest post. The facts were: in Mexico it is illegal to walk on the streets taking any alcoholic beverage, and she left a house with a beer in hand while talking with her boyfriend. Everything was fine when suddenly a policeman arrived and told them that they could not drink on the street, that it was illegal. My friend asked the police to do what he had to do, fine her, while police offered “fix the issue” in another way. My friend’s boyfriend, Mexican, instantly understood. That meant that for 200 pesos (less than 20 dollars) he could let them go, without any repercussions.

For only 200 pesos! My friend was very surprised about how easy it is to “pass on the law” in Mexico. As a foreigner, she saw the incident with different eyes but for her boyfriend, who is Mexican, this was a part of his culture.

This story is a typical scenario in Mexico but why does it to happen? Why is it so easy and common for police to ask for bribes?

Often we try to explain police corruption like an isolated phenomenon, which is a mistake. The police is not an entity that is independently corrupt, is part of the cycle irregularities that exist in the country – in this case, analyzing the Mexican society common social dynamics. We must remember that in act of corruption there are at least two people: the corruptor and the corrupted, in our example, police and civil society. As in the case of my friend, a bribe of 200 pesos is enough for a figure that represents the law passes over it, and us, who complained of it, just let it “because it’s easier.”

Some of the areas where there are problems of police inefficiency and corruption are due to poor preparation, low wages (that explains why policemen feel attracted for extra money), or mismatch in the forms of security figures (society sometimes believes they are more powerful than police). Breaking the law is profitable because the demand for illegal services continues. Another issue could be the fact that these corrupt practices have become part of the culture, the everyday Mexican reality.

I have heard many stories of corruption from my friends before, but I must admit not everybody does the same. I know people that are tired of this corruption cycle and that do not accept giving bribes to police. Even if the repercussions are “less comfortable”. They refuse to be a part of this corruption circle. Unfortunately, they are a minority.

Ever hear out there, “The police structure of each country is a reflection of the society to which they belong.” Does this seem right? Does this apply to your country?

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  1. emilio

    Me parece muy interesante tu aportación, sin embargo, creo que la corrupción dentro de las instituciones, como en el ejemplo de la policía, no sólo es por las causas que mencionas, va más allá, es un problema sistémico (más allá que cultural) lo que nos lleva a considerar que la corrupción no SOLO es institucional sino que hay una alta participación del ciudadano, es cierto, habemos algunos que estamos luchando por ir en contra; sin embargo, la mayoría de ciudadanos prefiere pagar el precio de “la mordida” que el precio de los largos trámites, el pagar el precio del respecto de las reglas (como no beber en la calle), y otras tantas.