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Mexicans, Expats, and City Officials Meet in Town Hall Setting to Discuss Security

By Jesus Aguado

Crimes, safety solutions, and improving 911 response times—these were the issues discussed at a town hall-style forum attended by Mexicans, expats, and mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal as part of the first meeting of the year convened by More Security in San Miguel, a group of expats and Mexicans focused on improving security in the city.

Overflowing audiences

Four hundred fifty people came to the event at Teatro Ángela Peralta on April 4, filling the building. Hundreds more remained outside, causing distress to some who had been in line for over an hour and had to be turned away due to space constraints.

Inside, resident Rodrigo Treviño spoke of a case a year ago in which robbers had come to his house and he and his family sequestered themselves in a bathroom for safety until they were able to call through a window to neighbors for help. He pointed out that the 066 emergency service did not respond in time to the neighbors’ calls.

When the police arrived, he said, the neighbors had already come to help, “armed with sticks” and other tools, and the intruders had fled. The case was closed by the Ministerio Público without resolution, he said.

Jonathan, an expat with a business in San Miguel de Allende that employs locals, stated that two people made a hole in the wall of his business’s warehouse so they could enter and rob it. He emphasized that what was bad was not that the police never came but that “they did not come because they were never called.” Neighbors saw the men breaking the wall and did not call the police. He invited citizens to become more involved and to work as a team to prevent crime.

Residents organizing

The meeting—which had simultaneous translation via headphones—continued with four residents sharing their experiences about organizing to involve society in various projects. For example, Gabriela Osorio, together with an artist, brings together young people who are now receiving art therapy. Francisco Mota, who lives near the La Aurora neighborhood, explained that on Calzada de la Aurora there was an attempted assault and that the residents decided afterward to unite to patrol the area. Members of the neighborhood know each other more now, and they are communicating with each other via technology.

Resident Juan Saavedra said that he others in a resident group give talks in schools and neighborhoods about crime prevention, providing information to both young people and their parents.

Mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal speaks

In his presentation, Mayor Villarreal indicated that it’s important to be careful not to spread disinformation when talking about security.

“What is in play is not the prestige of the government or the political party but San Miguel de Allende, the security of the citizens, of their goods, their employees, of economic development and investments. We cannot allow delinquency or other agendas disturb our security.”

He then shared statistics given by the Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Nacional (National Citizens Security Council). It showed that Irapuato and Celaya, cities close to San Miguel, are among the most dangerous cities in México.

“We will have to analyze where we are positioned when the country is in flames,” he said.

In comparative tables listing the number of “high-profile events” for each 100,000 residents in various cities, Villarreal pointed out that San Miguel has 8.73 cases per 100,000, versus 22.99 in Leon. Irapuato has 47.35 cases and Baja California 55.19.

“High-profile events” is a Mexican term for serious crimes such as drug-related violence, kidnappings, and murders.

Later, focusing on state statistics, Villarreal said that Dolores has 13.15 such cases, Celaya 13.76, Silao 31.65, and Salamanca 57.09.

The mayor also remarked that in 2015 there were 55 police officers and that now there are 172—“although we still need a lot more,” he added, in order to achieve the necessary number of personnel. San Miguel now also has the Polícia Rosa (the “Pink Police,” which focus on crimes against women) and also the Polícia de Proximidad Social (community policing) that patrols 48 neighborhoods in San Miguel 24 hours a day, he said.

Villarreal also spoke about home invasions, assaults, and auto thefts, which he said have diminished between October and March, according to the data of Sistema Nacional de Seguridad (National Security System). Comparing the statistics to that of previous administrations, he showed that the numbers had decreased.

Regarding homicides, he said, “We are going on 23 [in 2019], so we are above [previous years.” But he said that the local government and police are doing everything possible to make the numbers continue to go down.

Finally, he revealed that 12 local students from various high schools who were meeting in an abandoned building in the San Antonio neighborhood to use drugs were recently identified by a “cyber police” squad. Eight of the minors were detained at the building. The other four escaped.

Villarreal lamented the fact that some mothers came after midnight to pick up their underage children. “We watched them in their cells, because it’s our responsibility.”

An accord reached

After a Q&A session, the event concluded with a firm agreement between Sanmiguelenses Unidos and the city council. In this agreement, the government vowed to improve the response time to 911 calls, to add bilingual operators to 911, to inform the public about security issues in a transparent and efficient manner, to increase police staff and have major employment incentives for them, and to integrate Mexicans and foreigners into a security committee.

Reactions skeptical

Afterwards, Atención solicited the opinion of several participants, all expats, regarding the event. Most said they felt safe in San Miguel but expressed dissatisfaction with the information presented at the meeting. Here are some of their responses:

• “The reports from the victims were good and informative. So was the panel regarding what has been done in the neighborhood. All the mayor did was apply make-up on the problem, and he did not acknowledge it. The number of people who came shows the magnitude of the situation. I am very disappointed. The priorities are tourism and money and not the citizens.”

• “It sounds like more of the same. Nothing has changed. The statistics about increasing the number of policemen appears good, but the crime rate was never shown.”

• “I don’t understand the culture or the tone used by the mayor, but I hope that something is done and that we don’t remain the same. There are concerns and many challenges regarding taking the victims of crimes seriously. Now, after listening to the stories about insecurity, I don’t know if I should feel safe.”

• “I was happy to see all the people, many of them locals. But I was disappointed that they could not come in, just as it was disappointing to see some leave during the gathering. I think they were foreigners who did not speak Spanish. We should know next time what language it will be in. It would be good if the mayor would visit the neighborhoods and speak to the people.”

• “I am worried about the increase of homicides, because children could be in the line of fire. I am ready to do whatever to help the government and [to help] in colonia Independencia to stop them.”

• “The mayor took over the meeting and talked a lot. He spoke about what is happening in the city, but he didn’t say what he is doing to reduce crime.”

• “I had problems with the headphone and the noise. It was hard to concentrate.  Perhaps I missed a lot of the information.”

• “The mayor had an opportunity to motivate the police and the people who work for the government. Instead, he said that many of the reports [of crimes] are false. Today I was robbed. It’s the worst moment of his career.”

 

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