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Tijuana’s Police Chief Resigns, Blaming ‘Perverse Media Campaign’

Richard Klein

Tijuana's police chief Alejandro Lares discusses his crime-fighting strategy, Jan. 15, 2016.

Aired 2/29/16 on KPBS News.

Tijuana's police chief Alejandro Lares resigned Friday, saying he hoped this would stop a "perverse media campaign" against the police department. A spokeswoman for Lares said he was asked to resign.

Tijuana’s police chief Alejandro Lares resigned Friday, blaming a "perverse media campaign" against the police department.

A spokeswoman for Lares said he was asked to leave his post.

"I don't want to be an excuse for dark interests to try to smear the organization which I have served for several years and which I love deeply," Lares said in a press release.

The news comes a day after a KPBS investigation into the city’s strategy toward homeless migrants aired on PBS NewsHour.

The police department did not immediately confirm if Lares’s resignation was connected to the airing of the story. A spokesman for the Tijuana mayor declined to comment on the exact reasons for Lares’s departure.

Hundreds of migrants are living in Tijuana’s storm drains. They've been trying to avoid police raids that sometimes prove fatal. The storm drains stem from the Tijuana River canal, which is flanked by highways. When migrants try to escape police, they are sometimes killed by passing cars. Many of these people were deported from the U.S., where they have families.

The police chief's weekly raids followed the lead of Mayor Jorge Astiazarán, who launched the city's effort to evict migrants from the Tijuana River canal last spring, ordering the placement of hundreds of migrants into drug rehabilitation centers, some against their will. Many of the migrants were using heroin and methamphetamine. A KPBS investigation published last year revealed that not all of the migrants placed in rehab were addicts.

Late last year, Lares ordered fourteen all-terrain vehicles to place inside the canal in the coming weeks. He was waiting for their arrival when KPBS interviewed him in January.

Lares attributed a significant decrease in petty crimes across Tijuana last year to the city’s strategy toward the homeless migrants. Lares said the migrants commit crimes such as theft and house burglaries to finance their drug addictions.

When police capture them in the canal, they are placed in jail, on buses out of town or in drug rehabilitation centers.

“It’s a no man’s land,” he said of the canal.

Homicides saw a spike over the same period that petty crimes plummeted, and Mexican newspapers speculated that Lares' removal was tied to the former development. According to the latest figures, Tijuana saw 618 homicides during the first 11 months of last year, up 34 percent from the same period during the previous year.

A spokesman for the mayor said it is unknown who is going to replace Lares as police chief.

"I am leaving with the peace that comes from knowing I served this heroic and honorable institution with honesty, purity and transparency, and I intend to reintegrate with my head held high and looking forward," he said in the press release.

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