Tijuana Announces New Police Chief
Tijuana’s new police chief is José Luis López Medina, a spokesman for the mayor’s office said Tuesday. López was previously the head of the city's commercial police department, which provides security services to businesses.
He replaces Alejandro Lares, who announced his resignation on Friday after the mayor asked him to step down, 10 months before his term was set to expire. In a press release, Lares said he hoped his resignation would stop a “perverse media campaign” against the department. The comment and resignation came a day after PBS NewsHour aired a KPBS investigation into alleged police abuses against homeless migrants living in the Tijuana River canal.
The mayor’s spokesman said the decision to remove Lares was not motivated by any media coverage, or by a spike in homicides, as some Tijuana newspapers speculated.
He said Lares was asked to resign simply because Mayor Jorge Astiazarán wanted someone with more experience at the helm of the police department. The spokesman said López has worked more years as a police officer than has Lares.
Astiazarán wants López to continue the previous police chief’s strategy of evicting homeless migrants from the city’s main river canal, the spokesman said. Police raids of the canal have sometimes proved fatal, as fleeing migrants are hit by cars on the highways that flank the canal.
Last month, Astiazarán applauded Lares at a press conference for his role in decreasing Tijuana's overall crime rate about 11 percent last year from the previous year. Lares said "petty" crimes such as house burglaries and theft were plummeting in part because of the city's strategy toward homeless migrants, who sometimes commit crimes and use heroin or methamphetamine. The strategy was spearheaded by the mayor last spring with the placement of hundreds of homeless migrants in drug rehabilitation centers. During police raids, the migrants are placed in jail, in rehab or on buses out of town.
But homicides increased by more than a third during the same period. So far this year, Tijuana's homicide rate has shot up, with 132 homicides occurring between January and February, according to statistics from the state prosecutor. That's more than double the 62 homicides that were reported in Tijuana during the first two months of 2015.
The mayor's spokesman said the homicide rate is not the municipal police chief's responsibility, but rather the state prosecutor's.