Friday, September 02, 2005 | Tijuana’s officials, it seems, are fed up with the city’s negative image.
In an attempt to clean up the border city’s reputation as a hotbed of organized crime, prostitution and underage drinking, a team of Tijuana officials held a press conference in San Diego on Thursday to present a more positive image of their city.
In addition to touting Tijuana’s benefits as a place to invest, to manufacture, to dine and to imbibe, the officials described measures that the city’s police force has taken to improve safety for visitors.
These measures include a dramatic plan to increase Tijuana police officers’ pay by 100 percent over the next two years. Less spectacular tactics outlined by Deputy Commander and Chief Liaison Officer for the Tijuana Police Department Guillermo Gonzalez include the installation of closed-circuit television cameras in certain parts of downtown Tijuana and the posting of police at border crossings to turn away would-be underage drinkers.
The officials said they called the press conference to weigh in against some of the recent rhetoric that has been tarnishing Tijuana’s image. Such rhetoric, according to Alfonso Bustamante, director of bi-national affairs for the city of Tijuana, has come from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. Bustamante said that Tijuana has its issues, but he’s working on them.
“We have a city that keeps on growing that has many problems and some deficiencies,” said Bustamante. “Every city in the world has its violence, and we do too, but we are trying very much to fight that, to make it better for us, the citizens of Tijuana and for our visitors.”
The officials themselves, however, arguably offered more in the way of rhetoric than actual solid measures to combat security problems.
It was only when pressed about the actual measures they intended to take that Gonzalez casually mentioned the huge pay raise for Tijuana police officers.
Asked about police corruption and the widespread problem of Tijuana police taking bribes from tourists, Gonzalez said the proposed increases in pay will go some way toward solving a problem that he recognizes is a serious concern for tourists visiting Tijuana.
“We’ve been in this administration for only nine months,” said Gonzalez. “We’re addressing the problem, we’re taking forward steps to eliminate that problem and we’re hitting it pretty hard.”
According to Gonzalez, the pay raises will increase the average officer’s wage from roughly $800 a month to $1,600 a month. He said the wage increase will take effect over the next two years at a rate of a 4 percent increase every month.
A patrolman for the Tijuana Police Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed skepticism about the salary increases.
“Yes, it will help a little, but not much,” said the patrolman. “It’s not going to get rid of corruption.”
The patrolman said that he had not yet heard anything about the pay increases. When asked whether he believes that they will materialize, however, he expressed confidence that the city will honor its word.
Apart from increasing wages, Gonzalez said the police department is also trying to make officers more accountable within its organization. He said that a complaints department has been set up to take “direct action” against complaints of corruption within the police force and to monitor individual officers who have been accused of corruption. He did not offer any specifics about how many times an officer can be found guilty of taking bribes before being fired, but said that some of the complaints received this year have resulted in immediate firings.
Gonzalez said that recently officers have been stationed at the Mexican side of the border to look out for would-be underage drinkers. During the press conference, he said that under-18-year-olds who were clearly visiting Tijuana to party would be turned away. In a later interview, however, he conceded that police officers do not have the right to turn teenagers away simply because they suspect that they may get into trouble.
“We don’t actually turn them away, we urge them to leave,” said Gonzalez. “We show them the way.”
Contrary to public opinion, Gonzalez said, underage drinking is by no means accepted in Tijuana. Clubs and pubs that serve under-18-year-olds will be fined or shut down, he said.
The city recently installed a series of closed-circuit television cameras in the tourist areas of Tijuana, focusing on the infamous Avenida Revolución. These cameras, Gonzalez said, have already helped Tijuana police track down several stolen cars and have decreased the amount of vandalism taking place in the area.
Key to ensuring that Tijuana is as safe as possible for tourists, said Gonzalez, is cooperation and coordination between police officers in Tijuana and San Diego. He said the San Diego Police Department has been working with officers in Tijuana to apprehend criminals who have escaped over the border.
“The most important step that we can take is working together (with the SDPD) the way that we have done so far and just keep up what we’ve been doing,” said Gonzalez. “Not to toot our own horn, but we’ve been doing a good job in taking the most steps possible to ensure tourist safety.”
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