Security in San Miguel: Six Months into the New Administration
By David Bossman
Ricardo Villarreal was inaugurated as mayor six months ago, so this is an appropriate time to evaluate security during that period. People keep asking: Is the security situation really better under this administration?
In order to properly evaluate, one has to have an historical context: We need only look back to the difficult period of 2013-2014. Reported house robberies in San Miguel had soared. Every month, there were new reports of home invasions in the campo. Street muggings in our town were up considerably. Car vandalism and thefts were becoming more frequent.
Few, if any, arrests were made. The municipal police, which had been cut by almost 50 percent because of officers’ failures to pass the “honesty” exams, were overwhelmed. Mexicans and expats were clearly nervous; many expats (and some Mexicans) were quietly selling their homes because of real security concerns. Those of us who were near the center of the action put out a call to organize. Sanmiguelenses Unidos was born. Even as we pressured the Trejo administration to make security a priority in our city, we were frustrated by the lack of a significant response.
Some folks will dispute some of the specifics, but we should never forget the reality of that period. Do you remember when residents of various colonias did not see a police car for weeks at a time, when callers were not even able to reach the police emergency numbers, when small bands of thieves were breaking into people’s homes on Sunday afternoons while they were out?
Last June, the citizens elected Villarreal, who had promised during his campaign to seriously confront the huge security issue. The new mayor took office on October 10 and began by appointing Lic. Ricardo Benavides as his Secretary of Security. He had worked in Aguascalientes where he was involved in rooting out corruption, as well as cleaning out that city of cartel influences. In San Miguel, Secretary Benavides immediately began police sweeps of the affected colonias and, with the help of the State police, performed routine street checks of hundreds of suspicious young men and women—sending a message that these misdemeanors (small drug sales, car vandalism, gang activity) would no longer be tolerated.
The first few weeks of the new administration were dicey. Several gunfights broke out around the city, with more than a dozen gang members killed or injured during apparent struggles to establish their turf. Indeed, October and November were nervous times as many citizens wondered whether Pandora’s box had been reopened.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Benavides began removing other police officers who were tied to corruption and crime. Several were arrested. The rebuilding process began and new officers were actively recruited.
The crime stats tell part of the story. Our own comparative analysis reveals that house robberies and home invasions are down considerably during this time period. Car thefts have been reduced, and the homicide rate is actually lower. However, on the other side of the crime ledger, street robberies are up (74 recorded in January and February.) At that rate, more than 400 such robberies will be committed during this calendar year … a completely unacceptable number. Sexual assaults continue to increase, as San Miguel has the unfortunate distinction of being near the top of the Guanajuato State list in that violent crime category.
Sanmiguelenses Unidos will continue to advocate for an organized neighborhood policing program. In our conversations with Secretary Benavides, he maintains that he is open to such programs, but he reminds residents that he needs a full complement of forces in order to make that a reality.
We have a long way to go. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and San Miguel will not be re-built in six months! Although businesspeople and government officials have chosen the path of increased development and greater tourism, they haven’t always taken into account the added stress on city services—especially police and transportation.
The Villarreal administration, in our view, is off to a decent start, but it must continue to look for community input, creative policing solutions, and perhaps most important, financial help from the restaurant, hotel, and real estate communities so that educational and preventative crime programs can be expanded. Only then will San Miguel successfully make a peaceful, well-planned transition from small town to a World Heritage City, which fully protects and respects all of its residents and visitors.