Soaring Homicide Rates In Mexico
KPBS Roundtable / November 8, 2019
Soaring homicide rates in Mexico. How America contributes to the problem. Overlooked San Diego rape kits yield DNA matches in the federal database. Dockless scooters are an economic boom, but are they really beneficial to the environment?
Speaker 1: 00:01 Soaring homicide rates in Mexico. How America contributes to the problem. Overlooked San Diego rape kits, yield DNA matches in the federal database and doc lists scooters are an economic boom, but are they really beneficial to the environment? I'm Mark Sauer are the KPBS round table starts now.
Speaker 2: 00:29 [inaudible]
Speaker 1: 00:31 welcome to our discussion to the weak stop stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith, who covers the environment and transportation for the San Diego union Tribune. Max Riverland Adler who covers the border and immigration for KPBS news and reporter Andrew Keats of voice of San Diego. Well, nine members of a Mormon family, six of them children were shot dead and set a fire in Mexico, just South of the U S border. Several other children escape. Mexican officials and family members believe the killers were part of a drug cow cartel. Though it could have been a case of mistaken identity, the shocking mass shooting, once again places the spotlight on white violence in Mexico. Why homicide rates are soaring and what's being done. And max begin with this incident involved in a usual community of families with dual us Mexico citizenship.
Speaker 3: 01:23 Yeah, so this is a group of families that have been living in that area for over a century. Uh, they were members of a Mormon community that came down during a split in the church and they'd been going back and forth between, um, Mexico and the U S for, for generations. Um, there have long been tensions between the community and local groups over resources like water, food, things like that. Um, and this isn't the first run and they've had with local organized crime cartels. Um, but it is certainly the most violent of the incidents.
Speaker 1: 01:55 And, um, for the record, no arrests made so far, stole a lot of questions in this investigation. Even days later.
Speaker 3: 02:01 Yeah, we don't know much. We don't know whether it was a mistaken identity. We don't know which cartel pulled it off. We don't know who is involved and what the motives were. And unfortunately, that's really similar to a lot of crimes that you see in Mexico.
Speaker 1: 02:13 Now president Trump's response to this tragic incident,
Speaker 3: 02:17 his response was a to send in the U S military, or at least hinted that as much as he does and his tweets, um, which you know, is not something that either the Mexican government is at all interested in or something that the U S government, it seems at this point is taking all that serious.
Speaker 1: 02:35 Well, yeah. And Trump says, Oh, we'll get it done quickly and effectively it may be just him spouting off on Twitter, which happens all the time. Of course. Um, no real possibility at this point then the military from the U S is going to go in.
Speaker 3: 02:47 That would be a, an unprecedented situation where the U S military itself would go in. That being said, that U S has for a very long time advised the Mexican government on anti, um, issues. And of course the drug enforcement agency has a long history inside of Mexico. So, um, you know, that's what the response does typically will look like from the U S not so much, um, as we would call it, boots on the green.
Speaker 1: 03:12 The Mexican leaders are not inviting, uh, you know, Trump descend in the army?
Speaker 3: 03:16 No, no. That is the furthest thing from their mind. Okay.
Speaker 1: 03:19 Now, last month the violence really has, has made headlines internationally. 14 Mexican police officer's gun down a lasthma T wanna declared the most violent city in the world this spring by the a my Mexico citizen council for public safety and criminal justice, 17,600 murders in Mexico. Just the first half of this year, Tijuana had 2,500 plus homicides in 2018 40% more than 2017. And that was a big year. So a, it's almost three times as many killings is in the worst previous spike of violence in Tijuana. What's behind all this violence?
Speaker 3: 03:54 There's, um, a couple of factors that are going into it. There's a lot of meth trade going on in Tijuana that's small time dealers within Mexico itself. And then crossing the border, there's a lot of violence flaring up over different cartels that are trying to take control in the area. And then on top of that, that will Thali has kind of increased in terms of the weapons that are being used. I spoke with, um, USD professor have Mead who told me, listen, I'm the whole, the shootings, the amount of shootings are not really all that far up, but what's happening is that people are using higher caliber weapons, much more powerful guns that are coming from the U S and people are dying from, uh, these wounds at a much higher higher rate.
Speaker 1: 04:37 Now Trump and we, we, uh, for a TV audience showed that that tweet, uh, in, it's in this, uh, fully there and he didn't mention at all the fact of controlling weapons. Well, of course we have had a national debate, ongoing national debate with the presidential election on gun control in this country here. But you're getting very powerful weapons and lots of them going to a country that ostensibly has strict gun control.
Speaker 3: 04:59 It does have strict gun control. There's only one store in Mexico where you can buy weapons in Mexico city. The largest buyer of weapons in Mexico is it's defense department. And it buys directly from gun manufacturers in the U S um, where those guns actually go after they are shipped over the border or even as they go across the border is a huge question and a big contributor to the most recent, you know, Speight and violence. On top of that, you do have people that are, you know, filling cars with guns that they buy legally in the U S and then they're just driving them South to Mexico and earning money on that deal. Um, something that Mexico has asked is the U S to step up enforcement of southbound traffic and that's something we've seen. There's new booths that just went online this year at the Santa suture port of entry that would scan or at least check South bound traffic.
Speaker 3: 05:48 That being said, customs and border protection hasn't really staffed those booths as often as uh, I think Mexico would like. So it's something that they would, Mexico would like the U S to take a lot more seriously. That's interesting. Yeah. Cause usually you're going South and you just cruise right through. Right. Going North, it takes forever. So now they're saying, okay, we're going to start tracking for this contraband going South. Yeah. And I went two weeks ago and they were checking and customs and border protection told me in a statement, they said, you know, listen, what we do is we do targeted inspection. So we'll get a tip and we'll, we'll follow up on that. And that's when we'll be looking. It's not around the clock thing. That being said, you know, how much weight that actually carries as opposed to this is an agency that constantly says, Hey, we're overstretched and overboard, burdened at the port of entry. So who knows how much people they can actually devote to extensively guns that are leaving the country.
Speaker 1: 06:40 No. A long time. We've had this debate. A lot of different people have said, you know, it's time to, this drug war isn't working. It's time to legalize control, push a a not instead of a criminal, a push toward drugs in Mexico and in the United States, uh, get into a situation of this is a public health issue, not a criminal issue. Here, legalize them to some extent, control them, government distribution, et cetera. Take away the cartels profit motive and all. What are you hearing on the Mexican side of the border in terms of that debate?
Speaker 3: 07:12 Yeah, the relatively new presidents just been a year on that doesn't matter. Why Lopez Obrador his whole philosophy towards the violence in Mexico has been, listen, we need to take the long view in order for us to crack down on the cartels, we need to give people options of not joining a gang. We need to do economic development, we need to do social services. Um, of course this is something that might not even bear fruit towards the end of his term. This might take decades for, you know, actual generational change in terms of poverty and wealth distribution. In the meantime, what a lot of people have been saying is that there is no real short term vision that amyloid is providing in terms of how do we respond to these acts of violence. In the past, Mexico has sent in its own military, has come down really hard on cartels and that's what's kicked off incredibly violent years as part of the drug war. That's something he really wants to stay away from. And he has shown this real focus on making sure he doesn't get sidetracked by the need to send it in the military or even when it comes to immigration, a fight with president Trump over things like that. He's so focused on his domestic priorities that he's really trying to have a avoid the pitfalls of prior president.
Speaker 1: 08:24 And of course the appetite for drugs on this side of the border is providing the cash. I
Speaker 3: 08:29 heard know legalization talk right from the Mexican administration before. Is there any reason to think that this would be different? Well, they did a, there, they're on their way to legalizing marijuana, um, which is a huge step from Mexico. That was for years. Public opinion was opposed to it. This was a promise that, uh, the president had made and then backed away from, and then his own party kind of pushed him towards getting through. Um, but you know, we're talking about right now, a lot of the violence stemming from things like the meth trade, fentanyl, heroin, things like that, they're never going to be legalized. And as long as the U S has an appetite for those things, it's going to come through Mexico and Mexico will have a hand in helping to produce it and synthesize it. Um, that being said, even legal things like avocados that we get from Mexico are now falling into, um, you know, the hands of organized crime and, um, you know, basically being used as cudgels for, um, large cartels to make a lot of money. Uh, so it's, it's, it's not just a drug issue, it's just the fact that America relies on Mexico for cheap products and labor regardless of what the product is. And that creates an environment where, um, if you don't have any regulation or any kind of semblance of order, you're going to end up with, uh, with violence.
Speaker 1: 09:43 Well, a lot of time in the segment, I'm sure, unfortunately we'll be visiting this again here. It's a, it's a tragic situation. We're gonna move on a change in a longstanding police policy toward evidence gathered in rape cases as a result of in dozens of promising leads and open investigations and issue was how San Diego police detectives viewed rape kits. And Andy start with these kids. What are they and how have they traditionally been used in investigation? In reports of rape?
Speaker 4: 10:09 Yeah, so a rape kit is basically something that a, a trained nurse collects when somebody, uh, reports that they were a victim of sexual assault. It's a number of different swabs that are used to take a look for trace DNA on different parts of the victim's body and search for DNA from the suspect. They also take a hair commingled fingernail clippings, anything that might be able to find piece of DNA. It's all put into a single kit and it's shipped over to a forensic biology unit, uh, for later testing. And, uh, for a very long time it had been the policy of the San Diego police department that those kids were not tested as a matter of policy or, or a, a blanket rule. They were, uh, an investigation was carried out first and they came to some sort of conclusion that there might be value in doing the testing before they went forward with that testing as opposed to what has overwhelmingly become the policy throughout the country, which is test every single kit, make no exceptions, and we don't know what we'll find, but more DNA that we can pull out of these kids the better.
Speaker 1: 11:11 Yeah. So how bad in the, uh, the backlog of this number of kits that had not been tested, how, how had it bad?
Speaker 4: 11:17 Uh, as of a few years ago, it had, it was the reported number was about 2,700 kits. That's stretching back for decades, uh, that had been collected, not tested, but we're still in the department's, uh, uh, possession and I just can't emphasize enough. I really want to underline the extent to which the department was openly contemptuous of the idea that they should be made to test all of these kits in public hearings at the city council in the press feuding with city attorney Mara Elliot, who had a different position, district attorney, summer Stephan who had had this different position. The crime lab director, Jennifer Shen and previous police chief Shelley Zimmerman, were disdainful of the idea that there would be open value in testing all of these kits as a rule.
Speaker 1: 12:02 So now they've started testing them, started clearing the backlog and all. And, and of course that was the, uh, the core of your story. What are the numbers showing regarding the results in hundreds of these kids being done?
Speaker 4: 12:13 I'd love to have a comprehensive number that I could simply say they've tested all these kits. Here's the rate rate of hit, uh, unfortunately around last November. Uh, for reasons that are unclear, the department stopped tracking the results that were specifically pulled from kits they had, uh, from an by which I mean the kits from the backlog. So they still are doing these testing, but they are not keeping track of the results, uh, in kind of different ways about the backlogged kits versus active kits from new active investigations. So that cut off in November, 2018. Uh, and the department has basically just told us, I should also say I did this story with um, freelance writer, Kelly Davis. She has been on the Sherman and she's been working on this store for years. Right. Um, they told us they, they are not capable of giving us a comprehensive all encompassing answer on what they've learned from all of these kits.
Speaker 4: 13:08 But there is a period from late 2017 through November, 2018 where they could tell us that they tested 313 kits from the backlog. From those 313 kits. They pulled 121 viable DNA profiles that they were able to put into us. That's the federal database that tracks DNA. And uh, 38 of those profiles hit two profiles that were already in the federal DNA database. So you're looking at basically one in three of all kits tested, found a profile that could go into codas and about one in 10, uh, actually were able to connect it to a previous case, which was, uh, you know, a lead that you could give investigators to potentially charge.
Speaker 1: 13:47 And you and Kelly Davis, you had, they really yanked this info out. It's not like they issued a press release to where they were forthcoming or went to, uh, to just release this stuff. You had to do a freedom of information, right?
Speaker 4: 13:58 Yeah. The, so this, this information came from PRA after the PRA because it was clipped into the November, 2018 timeframe. We went and tried to get the comprehensive information they gave us and they attempted to give us some information on that, uh, which was conflicting and it immediately became clear that the numbers we received didn't add up. Just they, they didn't make any sense when we went to them and said, this is very confusing. These new numbers versus the old numbers we have don't seem to jive. They said, you're right. We seem to be incapable of tracking this data in a reliable way. You should rely on what you got from the, uh, from the public records act request and not what we've just given you straight, if I remember correctly from one of these disdainful hearings. Um, they said at one point they can't test the kits unless they first determined that there was a crime.
Speaker 4: 14:47 Now they've changed their tune on that. Now they're saying, well, we can test kits to try to figure out if there was a crime they have. So they test, they put their kids into 18 different categories that are each different reasons that they were not tested. That may be that. Um, also, so for instance, sometimes they may have determined that there was, uh, a crime where they felt there was relative certainty that there was a crime they forwarded to the district attorney. And for one reason or another district attorney declined to prosecute then doesn't necessarily mean that they didn't think there was a crime. The district attorney could decline prosecution for any number of reasons. They have their own resources to consider. They have to go to trial. Maybe they don't think they can win, even if they do believe there was a crime. Right, right. Um, and so there's, there's 18 different reasons that they have and there are some that, that, that people have even activists that had been pushing for this clear the backlog movement, which was a national movement. Um, even they acknowledge that there are some small number of kits that shouldn't be tested, uh, victims who want to move on with their life, who do not want to be contacted because they have a, or have, uh, decided to kind of recant their tests.
Speaker 1: 15:54 Yeah. We should say these are these investigations that can get very complicated and difficult. It's not a real clear cut and somebody stole something kind of case.
Speaker 4: 16:02 Absolutely. And there was a time when they would point to the idea that, uh, well in some of these kits it is not a question of identity. It is a question of consent and a kid can't tell us anything about consent. The argument, uh, that would be come back from activists is, sure, but maybe you have one is case whereas unclear about consent. But if you put that, if you test that kit and you get a DNA profile and you put it in the database, you may find that that same profile is related to five very similar cases that follow a similar emo that are working across different jurisdictions that you could then prove up your case. And there actually was a very specific example of something just like that that happened in downtown San Diego where kind of group of men in a pickup ring were preying on drunk women in bars and the gas lamp. And there there were charges brought because of testing or rape kit that was sat that sat on the shelf for three years before it was finally, Oh, I see. So it's like this one specific case. It could be hard to tell if there is consent, but when you zoom out and look at a pattern, you're like, Oh wow, this guy has been involved in five different cases where consent was initiated, right?
Speaker 1: 17:10 This case may be gray, but these others here and now we've got a pattern. Exactly. And again, we should point out that the change here, the, the push behind this and not just San Diego police, but several other police agencies within the County is the new district attorney, relatively new. Now some are stuffing and uh, the, uh, city attorney are both saying, no, we're going to change this. This philosophy is going to change.
Speaker 4: 17:31 Yeah, that's exactly right. And the, the district attorney put together an idea that, uh, the summer stuff and put together an idea of we don't want to overburden the crime lab that we have here. Let's take all of these untested kits and there are kits at the Sheriff's department and a bunch of other cities. Let's send them all to a third party lab for testing. Uh, and that your crime labs will still be able to, to do the work that's coming in from new cases without being overburdened. The city of San Diego, uh, declined to participate in that process initially. Um, they reversed course recently based on previous reporting that I had done, uh, about some corners that were essentially cut on a smaller percentage of the, of, of uh, rape kits in, in terms of the methodology of how they were being tested. When that news came forward, the new police chief came out and said, uh, we're going to end this practice and we're going to join in with some or Stephen's effort to, to test all kits.
Speaker 4: 18:24 I should say though, one distinction, and I think that maybe this underlines what SDPD had had had said throughout this time is the Sheriff's department's reasoning for not testing kits that were in their backlog was resources. They said they didn't have enough money. SDPD his argument was never fundamentally about resources. They said as a matter of policy, they do not think it is wise to test these kits. Those was the difference between them and STD as has finally moved back. But that was only after a guidance changed from the department of justice laws where, you know, different, different laws were passed at the state level and the city council, uh, at the urging of individual council members and with the support of the city attorney had decided to, uh, budget money for all of the testing.
Speaker 1: 19:05 All right. A lot of time on this, but we'll see what happens going forward as more of these [inaudible] cleared, the whole backlog is, well, some find them a fun and convenient. Others have a range of reactions from annoyance to fears for their safety. We're talking about the swarms of dock lists, scooters on streets and boardwalks throughout San Diego. The issue today, how green are they? And Joshua, the assumption was at least a, these you had ubiquitous now scooters, we're helping the environment, but the argument being made now they're really not as green as we thought.
Speaker 5: 19:35 Yeah. Well there's a growing body of evidence. People are starting to look at this now. Um, we really didn't know much a couple of years ago when they first hit the streets, but a report out of North Carolina state university looked at the life cycle, uh, emissions, the carbon footprint of a scooter, if you will, versus the carbon footprint of driving a car. And they found that the scooters were only about half had half of the emissions of a car. You might think it's much lower, but I'm obviously walking or riding an electric bike or taking a bus was a much more ecofriendly than riding a scooter largely because, um, there's a lot of emissions that go into making these things right. You gotta like make them somewhere in China and then ship 'em over and then also to charge them, someone's got to drive around at night and pick them up.
Speaker 4: 20:25 And particularly if these things, which seems they do have relatively short lifespans on the street, they get broken, they get vandalized. So, right. Not only is it tough to manufacture them, creating a lot of missions, if you're turning, if you're going through them as often as they seem to be, then you've got a lot of it.
Speaker 5: 20:40 And that's the, yeah. Not to mention the lithium extraction that goes into their batteries and places like Chile, these ecological wastelands that have been created just to power these things up to mine. That stuff. That's part, that was part of the analysis. The other thing, interesting part of your story was the, the whole carbon footprint is part of it, but people otherwise would be walking or biking or using these. So they are using, you know, the carbon expenditure there instead of just walking. Right. So then we'll get people out of cars, not get people to quit walking. Right. And so there's two questions that basically came out of this. One was can we make the scooters last longer so that we're not printing these things, you know, nonstop over in China. And then the next thing was, well, how are people using them? Because even in our current state, if people are using them to replace driving trips, okay.
Speaker 5: 21:25 That's good. So we have some preliminary data out of an a bunch of cities where they're doing surveys of riders and it looks like people are replacing, um, bike and walk trips at like roughly 35 to 40%. So that, that's not good now. But they were replacing vehicle trips a lot of times, like an Uber or Lyft trip. They were replacing those at roughly a third of the time. So the question is, can you get them to replace driving trips more often and can you manufacture them so that they last longer? And the scooter companies now are saying, yeah, we're coming out with new generations of scooters all the time and they're lasting longer, so don't worry. Um, it's really hard to get data on how long these things last. But like basically what I could find from the literature and talking to the researchers that look at this, when they first hit the streets, they were lasting somewhere between like a month and six months and now they're lasting the news.
Speaker 5: 22:19 Like the latest gen of these is like maybe, Oh, just over a year. Oh really? Yeah. Well, at least that's what the scooter companies are telling us. They don't get thrown into a Creek or a Lake before then. Right? So you've got to look at the fleet on average. But yeah, a lot of them get vandalized and there's a problem collecting them too. That's a whole nother issue that impacts the environment, right? So you got the gig economy, you got all these people driving around competing to pick them up, right? So you're going out at night so much to pick up. So many scooters. Right? And so everyone's driving around looking for these things, spewing greenhouse gases into the emissions, into the air. That's not good. Right? So some companies have said, okay, we're going to get our own personal fleets of people so that we can have very efficient pickup routes.
Speaker 5: 22:59 Lyme has said, we're introducing this feature where our chargers can reserve scooters so that they can kind of on their way home from work, maybe pick up a few without having to fight with other people, other people in the gig economy. So and that the researchers overwhelmingly said the, these are not insurmountable fixes. Like we can make these things greener and they could be really beneficial. But you know, w the thing that occurs to me with that is that uh, these are not especially profitable businesses. Well there's that based on right now and all of the things that you just described as fixes, although those are much better from an emissions perspective are also more expensive for a business model that has real questions just on its own. Totally. And you know, I think increasingly it seems like this menace that we're told about for these, these scooters may be taking care of itself, Virgin natural death, that maybe it's not a really a viable business. And if you make it more expensive by trying to lower the greenhouse emissions, you may even, you might speed that process up.
Speaker 1: 24:01 Yeah. I'll throw in my anecdote. I was saying before we started about walking along a mission, a beach boardwalk there up toward PB and earlier in the summer, I mean, you were taking your life in your hands if you didn't look around, if you were going to, you know, step to your left a little bit, but all of a sudden they seem to really be disappearing.
Speaker 5: 24:18 Right. Cause they put the speed restrictions in the city, put their rules in place over the summer, which restricts speeds along the boardwalk and in Balbo park and along the Embarcadero downtown. And so now they can slow down to like three miles an hour and people aren't riding them as much and those,
Speaker 1: 24:33 so the, the, the bloom is off the Rose there, huh?
Speaker 5: 24:35 Well we don't know, but we know that the ridership is, has been cut in half over the last three or four months.
Speaker 1: 24:42 Wow. I mean it's, it's startling and they're seeing that in some other cities as well, right?
Speaker 5: 24:46 Uh, yeah. I mean it depends. There's a lot of different kind of situations. Some places they are more popular in some places they're less. Some cities have said, we don't want these at all.
Speaker 1: 24:55 So interesting. Well, what's mayor Faulkner and others who have supported this? So say about, you know, what's happening in the, in the green impact?
Speaker 5: 25:02 Well, so you know, Faulkner's line is very much along the same lines as the researchers I talked to, right? Like that are criticizing the carbon footprint of these things. They're saying, you know, they're not as, it's not as green as walking or biking, but they're also saying, Hey, this has a potential to be a real solution to first and last mile issues with transit. If people are riding these to transit and then getting off and taking it the last mile to work, that could be a game changer for mobility going forward. And Faulkner says the same. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 25:30 All right, we're out of time. We'll see what goes forward on that. And another good one to follow up on. Well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guest, Joshua Emerson Smith of the San Diego union Tribune. Max Riverland Nadler of KPBS news and Andrew Keats, a voice of San Diego and up programming. No KPBS radio will carry the coverage of the house impeachment hearings next Wednesday and Friday. Go to kpbs.org to see how you can watch the live proceedings on KPBS to television. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the round table.