Bribes that bite: Two sides of the coin

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

“Give me another chance. I’ll buy you a soda. Don’t be like that, officer. Just tell me how can we reach an agreement.” These are just some of the phrases often heard when a police or traffic officer is about to ticket a driver because he or she does not have a license, is not wearing a seat belt, does not have plates or registration, has parked illegally in a handicapped space or hasn’t obeyed the rules of the road. Such bribes, known colloquially as “mordidas” (literally, “bites”) are an exchange between two people, and often it is not the officer who makes the proposal.

According to Transparencia Mexicana (Mexican Transparency), the national chapter of Transparency International, every year more than 200 million instances of bribery take place in the country, involving around 30 billion pesos. In October 2012 the INEGI (National Institute of Geography and Statistics) published the results of a study conducted in 2011 that revealed that 91.8 percent of 100,000 inhabitants in the country think that the security forces are involved in acts of corruption. In the story below, all names are aliases except for those of departmental directors.

Sanmiguelenses and their experiences

Carlos Espinosa, a 26-year-old taxi driver, said that years ago he used to drive a bus. “I used to work for a commission and most of the time I was pressured because of the timetable set by the office. Sometimes I used to forget to close the bus doors or give tickets to the passengers. I used to stop at places that were not official bus stops, and that cost me money,” he said. Espinosa commented that usually the traffic officers would stop him on the street, ask him for his documents and then wait for him at the bus headquarters. When he arrived there he would give them 100 pesos. He remarked that giving them money was much better than wasting his time taking a day off work to go pay the fines at the Traffic Department, which were much more expensive. “I preferred to give them the money so they could use it for themselves, instead of paying the government,” he said. Now he is a taxi driver and respects the traffic regulations and has all his documents in order. However, “if they want money, they will annoy you with the tiniest detail,” he said.

Alejandro López, an 18-year-old student, said that once he was driving drunk and an officer stopped him and said he was going to take him to the municipal jail and the car would be impounded. “I was afraid, and I remembered that I had 50 pesos in coins, so I offered them to him. At the beginning he did not want to take the money, but later he accepted and I went home.” According to this student, he knows most of the traffic officers “and when I see them I give them money for a soda, even if I am not doing anything wrong, but I know that next time they will be nicer to me.”

The mordida paid by Elena Chávez and her friends to two police officers was 600 pesos. Chávez said that they drank at a party and when they left they were listening to loud music in the car. The police officers asked them to stop the car and said that they would be taken to jail and the car would be confiscated. “There were six of us, and one of my friends is very talkative, so he convinced one of the officers to let us go, and finally he did, but we gave them 600 pesos in exchange.”

Luis Moreno lost his car because of fines. He said that he was drinking and driving and had no driver’s license or license plates. The traffic officer started making a list of all the money that he had to pay. “The officer said, ‘If you don’t want to pay, then give me your gold chain.’ He asked me to put it inside a book and hand it over to him, but I was smart and threw the chain in the back seat and handed him the book, and he let me go. The next time he stopped me, he just laughed.” The next year he was driving drunk again and he had to pay lots of fines. “They made out a long list of fines but they offered instead to buy the car and pay the fines. Moreno sold the car for 5,000 pesos but only received 2,000 after the fines were paid.

Traffic and police officers say they are not corrupt

Guadalupe Monroy has worked in the police department for more than 20 years and commented that a long time ago there was a report of a robbery at a caja popular; the criminals escaped but were intercepted on the road to Querétaro. They offered Guadalupe and his partner 5,000 pesos to let them go, but they did not take the money and arrested the criminals. “I am still working here because I have been honest and I care about my job,” said Guadalupe. Another officer commented that at the Tuesday market they arrested a gang of female thieves who were stealing wallets. The leader offered the officer 25,000 pesos for her liberty and to allow her to keep operating freely in the area, but he did not accept the money, based, he said, on his values and training he got in the police department.

Generally instances of bribing traffic officers are linked to drunk driving, and sometimes the drivers have offered up to 500 pesos to avoid fines and jail. Even if the officers have been tempted at times to accept the money, their honesty usually prevails. Adriana Ramírez, who works for the police department, has two jobs and is responsible for two daughters and her parents. She said that it is better to keep her job than take bribes from people “because we are here to help them, not to take advantage of them.”

Unproven acts of corruption

Eleazar Romero Domínguez, head of the Traffic Department, said that even if the salary of the traffic agents is not enough based on their duties and responsibilities that is not a reason to surrender to corruption. He said that when this administration took office the whole staff was warned about taking bribes and they know that if a case of corruption is proven against any officer he or she will be fired and a suit will filed at the district attorney’s office, not only against the officer but also against those who offer the bribe. Romero said that during this administration they have received two complaints of corruption that have been investigated by the Council of Honor and Justice of City Hall but they have not been proven. In one instance the person accused of bribery admitted that his complaint was false and he just wanted his driver’s license back. The director said that all traffic officers must carry ID and they must by law show it when they stop someone.

Gabriel Arturo Yáñez Saldaña, director of the Public Security Department, said that the salary of the security officers is not linked to corruption, although he added that a better salary could help deter officers from taking bribes. He said that he could not say for certain that there are no corrupt officers because it is hard to know what private agreements are made between two people.

Salarios mensual de policías antes de impuestos/ Monthly salaries of police officers before taxes

Puesto/position                                Salary

Policía primero                                 13,691.10
Policía segundo                                11,041.20
Policía tercero                                   8,904.00
Policía de proximidad social         7,180.80

Salarios mensual de tránsitos antes de impuestos/Monthly salaries of traffic officers before taxes

Puesto/position                                      Salary

Sub-oficial                                                          6,643.50
Primer oficial                                                     6,952.50
Oficial de Tránsito                                            6,952.50

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