Thu | Aug 17, 2017

La Fuerza Civil: Does Monterrey have the answer to Jamaica's crime problem?

Published:Tuesday | February 23, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Laura Tanna photo Alberto de Armas

When Monterrey, Mexico's top industrial city, started to experience the kind of crime they'd never had before, the kind of drug warfare that had plagued other parts of Mexico, Cemex and the local industrial community decided to do something about it. With crime beginning to worsen in 2008, culminating with the city's most violent year in 2011, Lorenzo Zambrano, chairman and chief executive officer of Cemex met with the state governor of Nuevo Leon in 2010, and out of their meeting came the creation of Alianza por la Seguridad, an alliance of government, businesses and universities which created Fuerza Civil (Civil Force), in 2011. Within three years crime was cut so significantly, Montego Bay or Kingston might learn from their action.

I mention this because Cemex has a controlling interest in the cement company in Trinidad and Tobago, which owns Jamaica's very own Carib Cement Company Ltd. Now with new management which has turned around that company's finances, new management which is investing US$30 million "to boost its production capacity over the next 15 months" according to recent reports, let's look at what happened in Monterrey.

Alberto de Armas, vice- president of human resources for Cemex and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Monterrey, participated closely in the programme, from the onset of the Alliance for Security. He explained: "Most of the wealth in Monterrey came from industrial barons who began cement, beer, glass and steel industries. Years ago, Mexico City saw an increase in criminal activity. It was very dangerous, a lot of kidnappings, while in Monterrey there were none. We had been pretty much exempt from security challenges, and for the first time these issues were affecting daily life in Monterrey.

 

criminal gang

 

"We had, at one point, an armed confrontation in Monterrey, just outside an international school. There was a gun battle between private security people and a criminal gang, which left two security guards murdered. I'm talking close to the exit where all the parents leave with their kids. In my opinion, that was THE moment when citizens, the industrial community, society at large, all started demanding of the government more results on the security front.

"Mr Zambrano was a representative of the key industries of Monterrey who met with the governor. This is when they formed a group called La Alianza por la Seguridad, in February 2011, to try to figure out how government and civil society could work in tandem to confront these security challenges. They decided to embark on this process of renewing the police force."

When the Civil Force was created, one of the stipulations was that every cadet had to pass deep and thorough background checks. They gave lie detector tests (polygraph test) and a lifestyle investigation (socioeconomic study) to all the police, and many were not invited to join. When asked why those police did not retaliate, de Armas replied: "Just because someone failed that test didn't necessarily mean that they were criminal, and that they had criminal intentions or that at some point in their past they had had criminal activity. It just meant they didn't have the characteristics that were identified as critical for this new police force. For example, some of the previous policemen did not pass the check because they couldn't produce a credible enough background of where they had been their entire career, others because of friends, or friends of friends with ties to illegal organisations. Finally, some of them were truly deemed to be actual security risks."

 

background test

 

For those leaving the force not because they had criminal associations, but only because they couldn't pass the background test, an effort was made to absorb them into other jobs where possible.

Once the Alliance was formed, a critical area of collaboration was in cadet recruitment. This challenge was given to the human resources departments of the companies in the Alliance.

De Armas remembers: "We began with a few companies and quickly grew to more than 10 besides Cemex, including FRISA, FEMSA, Alfa, Axtel, CYDSA, Deacero, Lamosa, Proeza, Soriana, Vitro, XIGNUX, and others, collaborating to find candidates.

Local universities were invited to join, including, the Technologico de Monterrey UDEM, and UR. We had no idea how difficult it would be to recruit police. People were afraid! We were contacting over 100 candidates for each cadet hired."

Nonetheless, the Alliance had joined tremendous talent and expertise in order to help the government tackle its security challenges. A plan was created, leaders selected, both within government and participating firms, governance structure was set, metrics were identified and the Alliance was off and running to find thousands of recruits.

"Civil society, the public, worked hand in hand with the government to name a programme manager, interestingly, a long- time human resources executive at CEMEX, a retiree, said de Armas.

"We hired a small staff for him and the other participants were either volunteers from the company or employees of the state government."

We worked together to install in this new force, some of the controls we have in business, including retaining employees, creating a sense of dignity in a law enforcement career, leadership development, a code of ethics, etc. For example, practically all the companies in the Alliance have a code of ethics and a process to be a whistle-blower if you find that someone has not been keeping up with that code. We ensured that this was replicated inside the force. And we stayed very close. The Alliance was very, very close to the original cops that went to live in a barracks. We participated in helping them with things like a gymnasium. We set up counselling so they could work through the stresses of safety problems they were encountering on a daily basis. One of the biggest problems our police cadets were having was that their families didn't want them to be cops, because at that point in time it was such a dangerous profession. So we worked with people who helped them try to manage that stress because, initially, a lot of our recruits abandoned the process of going through the police academy."

The government offered the new police force scholarships for education, housing and, most importantly, compensation comparable to what companies paid which, in some instances, was double what local municipality police forces paid and they offered life insurance. Some of the initial investment came through the companies, but the ongoing cost of running this police force is the responsibility of the government which implemented, first, a two per cent payroll tax, now raised to three per cent.

 

large investment

 

"There was a fairly large investment in the camp where all the cadets live when they're operating. We were able to continue with the investment in the police academy to support the 4,000 members of the Fuerza Civil that were set as an objective."

De Armas also noted that: "Some municipalities still have a police force and also have the Fuerza Civil which reports to the governor through his staff. The Fuerza Civil has jurisdictional structure where they can operate anywhere in the state. For example, San Pedro, a suburb of Monterrey, has its local force, but you also see the Fuerza Civil patrolling the streets. In some poorer communities, where they have much less resources, you may see 100 per cent Fuerza Civil. And some of the areas have a combination of the two police forces. Importantly, Fuerza Civil works in conjunction with all kinds of social efforts. They're building parks to engage kids in athletic activities at a younger age. There's a whole myriad of activities put in place to support some of the more problematic communities around the city, not just a policing effort."

Queried on how they prevented corruption in the new force which still ultimately reports to the governor, De Armas said: "There is a brand-new organisation, really at all levels. The only folks that were already from previous Mexican law enforcement were some of the very, very top levels of the organisation. The original commandant, the head of the force, previously worked in Jalisco State. He went through a deep, significant vetting process and became an acceptable candidate both to government and the Alianza."

 

security apparatus

 

On June 8, 2015, an independent governor was elected, not of the traditional political parties.

"I think what's happening now with this transition is a thorough review of the programme to consider changes. I'm happy to say that after several months we still have the Fuerza Civil, and it's still called the Fuerza Civil. At this point the processes of recruiting, the controls, all these things have been instituted into the security apparatus to the satisfaction of society. Society is very, very happy with the Fuerza Civil. Nowadays it's easier to recruit. It's a good job. It pays well. It's not as dangerous. Things on the security front are getting a lot better."

What happens if there's corruption within the local police force of a municipality and the Fuerza Civil wants to arrest somebody? How is gun play between the two forces avoided? De Armas sighed and responded: "Interesting question. When Fuerza Civil was born, there was still a lot of - this is my term - 'Chinese walls' - between the jurisdiction of the municipality and the state in terms of security. Today there's much more collaboration, no confrontation and I think that's a function of the agreements that were reached between the governor and the mayors. Security is a challenge for everyone, so I imagine that mayors and the state government agreed that collaboration is a more viable manner to operate."

With such headlines as 'Murders in Jamaica higher than in hottest war zone' shouldn't our minister of, national security, business and university leaders consider the Monterrey experience?