Interview with the Secretary of Public Safety
By Jesús Aguado
The local administration headed by Ricardo Villarreal started four weeks ago. During Villarreal’s political campaign, the slogan was “San Miguel Deserves More Security.” However, during the past four weeks, there have been nine murders in a row and, for that reason, secretary Ricardo Benavides said that the local government is working to avoid more crimes.
Jesús Aguado: San Miguel received you with a “bang.” A couple hours after you were sworn in as secretary, several street fights took place and even a murder (plus the following five). To what do you attribute that?
Ricardo Benavides: That is something that we did not cause. It is the result of too many actions that were permitted during the last years and today, logically, we are seeing the result. There was a lack of interest in the Police Department, a lack of operations on the streets, and police officers possibly involved in the crimes. Too many bars were opened, and all those things are causing the insecurity. The population has grown. They come from other cities, and too many aspects have been involved.
We are working with the state and the federal authorities to prevent crime. The security strategy in the streets is different now; the police are patrolling across San Miguel. We are working. In addition, the federation and the state trust in San Miguel. Safety will be the payment for all those citizens who trust in us.
JA: Recently several police officers were fired. How does that impact or benefit the population?
RB: The disposition of some officers inside the department was not adequate. We asked all members to get away from organized crime and urged them to try their best to benefit Sanmiguelenses. When a Sanmiguelense asks for help from a police officer, we want them to help him and not rob or hurt him. The positive part is that we can have a police force to trust. We are ending the cycles of corruption to have the best men on the streets.
Before firing police officers, we conduct an investigation. We realized that those fired officers did not have the characteristics we needed. Besides, the State Attorney General’s office had previously started an inquiry against those former members of the group.
JA: Due to federal budget cuts, San Miguel de Allende loses up to ten million pesos targeted for security matters. What the administration will do to recover that money?
RB: Mayor Ricardo Villarreal is working on it. Safety costs a lot of money, but San Miguel is worth it.
JA: You are new in town. Do you know the state Escudo Program and what results it has brought to the city?
RB: It is a program from the state government with very important characteristics in security. The program equipped the municipality with tools for providing better results. We have found that 20 percent of the surveillance cameras were not functioning, and the communication tools were not efficient (including the 066 emergency system). We want to take advantage of the equipment to get better results for the citizens. Now just ten percent of the cameras are out of service. In addition, we will hire qualified people to monitor the cameras.
JA: The Secretariat of Public Service is made up of three departments: Traffic, Civil Protection, and Security. What are you doing to find a director for the Civil Protection Department?
RB: We are analyzing resumes, and we will hire the director as soon as possible.
JA: It has been said that the director may come from a different city. Would it be a sanmiguelense?
RB: We are looking for the best résumé. The results that the person could give us are most important. The profile must then be authorized by the State Secretary of Civil Protection.
JA: If the director comes from another city, would that create conflicts of interest with other corporations?
RB: We want somebody experienced, who can act without improvising. In that department everything is about making decisions to save lives and manage disasters. I prefer to work with somebody experienced rather than with a Sanmiguelense who knows the city but does not have the expertise. That person, in the end, is the one who has to solve the citizens’ problems.
JA: When will you conclude the analysis?
RB: In three weeks maximum, but I want to make it clear that the area is not without a leader. The current personnel are working and giving good results.
JA: Ironically, during the weekend of Day of the Dead, nobody was murdered in town. How was that possible?
RB: It was the result of intensive work. Previous to that weekend, we held meetings with all the departments of this administration, emergency groups, and the members of nonprofit organizations. San Miguel is a city of good people who are the main attraction. That weekend everybody was happy, and that is the result of the good work we did.
JA: Is David Bossman, member of Sanmiguelenses Unidos, working with the Secretariat of Public Safety?
RB: David Bossman is a person who is worried about safety in town, but we are not working with him. He feels that we are doing our job, and he feels safer. Now our police force is on the streets patrolling. The results that we give are positives, and we are working more efficiently with fewer officers.
More security for San Miguel
The NGO Sanmiguelenses Unidos has a new office in the local administration. However, the community is still waiting to hear more about concrete projects from the organization in union with the current administration to help improve security in San Miguel.
Before the security crisis arose in the county during the last administration, David Bossman, who belongs to the expat community, was one of those who started the movement for security, and who spoke out when a crime was committed.
Bossman says that is it very important to report a crime and commented that “in Mexico there is certain cynism because people don’t report crime because there is no confidence in authorities.”
Bossman, who heads the volunteer office of Sanmiguelenses Unidos, said he feels more secure due to the increase of police presence on the streets and states that even after the last murders and shootings, he would like to wait for the results of the work of the local Public Service Secretariat before to call for a silent walk or public meetings on security.