Smoke, mirrors and crime in San Miguel

During the first five months of the year, murders in San Miguel have risen to between 29 and 50, depending who’s counting, compared to 28 during all of last year, putting 2019 on track to be the bloodiest year ever. 

Indeed, fuzzy statistics are but one problem in any discussion about crime in San Miguel, where policing often seems more like showmanship and public relations rather than catching criminals and putting them behind bars.

According to statistics in the Monday edition of El Correo, San Miguel Mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal reacted to this alarming trends by blaming “organized crime” in some of the shadier colonias and suggesting that regular folks, especially tourists with credit cards, have nothing to worry about. A column in the paper called this the “ostrich” approach to crime fighting.

Whatever news there is to print. 

In fact, in an impressive show of journalistic diligence, El Correo listed all 41 homicides so far this year, where they took place and some of the circumstances.

Though some iffier neighborhoods such as San Rafael and Olimpo had more than their share of murders, others took place at the Ignacio Ramírez Market near the Centro, where two vendors, on two different occasions, were shot to death. (Who knew selling radishes or flowers  could prove so dangerous.) Another murder took place in the tony Atascadero area. Gas stations. The parking lot of the Aurrera grocery store. And so on.

But as thorough as the El Correo list was, it omitted one murder, when earlier this year two bodies wrapped in blankets were found by the side of the road to Jalpa, about three kilometers from our ranch. One of the victims was quite dead, the other barely alive. So make that 42 murders for the year—or 30 or 51.

The bilingual weekly Atención, reported this week that a May 24 meeting of the State of Guanajuato Safety Council it was announced that similar councils would be established at the municipal level, including one in San Miguel. It’s not clear what all that means, other than political hoo-hah.

What caught my attention, though, was the preoccupation of local politicos with media coverage of the increasing crime wave, rather than specific steps to reduce crime, in this case murders.

One citizen councilor José Arturo Sánchez Castellanos exhorted the mass media not to be spokespersons for criminal groups by using their names and therefore “feeding their notoriety.”

In an elaboration of this garble-bargle, Sánchez Castellanos said there needs to be a “pact” to “create an ethical protocol for media coverage of violence so that the information that is published is true and objective and doesn’t publicize criminals whose egos are fed by people’s fears.”

San Miguel’s Tourism Council President Laura Torres, also a member of the state Safety Council she was working on a program to discourage the distribution of “fabricated news stories or news stories with incomplete information,” as if “fake news” were at the root of the problem

All this dissembling essentially attempts to cover the fact that tourism is big business in San Miguel—the biggest—and official worries that bad press might scare off visitors and retirees from the frozen North. It’s not an unreasonable concern.

But when municipal officials are confronted with rising crime statistics, they inevitably trot out figures showing more patrol cars, more police officers and more guns.

Indeed, at night the streets of San Miguel any more have so many police cars, all officiously flashing red and blue lights, parked on street corners or just cruising around, it all looks like a Potemkian version of Law & Order.

I would like to propose a crime fighting scheme based on transparency and accountability, two concepts so often trumpeted by Mexican politicians.

First, the city should begin a detailed tallying all crimes committed, from murder, to assault with a deadly weapon, carjacking, burglaries and so on, along with other specific information for each, such as locality, number of victims—along with the number of arrests and convictions associated with each crime.

Second, armed with those statistics, the mayor would hold public quarterly meetings, during which he or she would discuss any trends, compared to the previous quarter, and what the city’s gendarmerie— the one with the blue and red flashing lights, helmets, machine guns, etc.— plans to do to remedy the situation.

For further elaboration of the city’s crime-fighting plans, as well as questions and answers, the  meeting then would be turned over to the police chief or whoever is in charge of public security in San Miguel.

And if after two or three consecutive quarters, criminal activity doesn’t abate, the mayor would the fire the ass of the person in charge of public security, and find someone else who can better deal with the situation.

Simple, but oh so complicated in the smoke-and-mirrors law enforcement and political system of our charming but increasingly dangerous little town.

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