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Since then, I’d estimate I’ve paid out about $60 in bribes to Mexican police officers (I go to Mexico a lot).
Well, I just read this story in the Toronto Star about a Canadian journalist who, while in San Diego reporting on the wildfires, decided to go check out Tijuana and, he claims, got cornered by some unscrupulous local cops.
Here’s reporter Tim Harper’s description of what happened to him:
It took just 15 minutes here, driving alongside the wall and getting my bearings in this rambling city, before I ran smack into the oldest scam in the book, the good ol’ Tijuana Shakedown.
The border-town fleece is a time-honoured tradition and traditionalists should rejoice in this tale.
The anatomy of a mordita — the bite — goes something like this.
It starts with a simple left-hand turn onto a thoroughfare, where a battery of Tijuana police officers await, immediately signalling me to pull over.
I had been going 20 km/h over the speed limit, I was told.
But that was an impossibility in this traffic and certainly an impossibility on a left-hand turn — unless the speed limit was 15 kilometres per hour.
Harper writes that he ended up paying out a bribe of about $80 to the police.
That’s pretty steep. I’ve discovered that the best trick is to simply hide all of your credit cards and most of your money somewhere other than your wallet (under the car’s floor mat is an easy one). Leave only a few crumpled dollar bills in your wallet, and when the police pull you over, all you then need to do is open your wallet and show them you only have a few bucks.
Sometimes the cops take the money, sometimes they just send you on your way.
As Harper points out in his story, the problem of Tijuana police shakedowns doesn’t seem to be getting any better:
One in every four “courtesy” reports the San Diego police department receives from visitors to Mexico concerns police extortion.
The city of Tijuana is aware of its legendary corruption problem and has declared one road frequented by tourists as a “no-ticket” zone (I missed that road).
It is trying to train volunteers to intervene and explain to visitors their rights if they see them stopped by police.
They are also looking at hand-held devices officers can carry to accept credit cards at the side of the road.
But at this border crossing, traversed by 65,000 vehicles and 35,000 pedestrians daily, American weapons and Mexican drugs are always going to overshadow a shakedown of a hapless motorist.
And that’s why it works — there is a reluctance to lengthen what could be an unpleasant experience, a realization that this comes with the turf and the overwhelming sense of resignation that you’re not going to win a game against a guy with a uniform, badge and gun.
The deal done, the officer leaned back into my car with a big smile and said: “This is just between you and me, okay, buddy?”
Sure. Just between you and me.