Thursday, October 26, 2006

Somewhere in La Mancha ...

A dose of culture fights police corruption
Wire services
El Universal
Lunes 23 de octubre de 2006
Miami Herald, página 1

By teaching police officers personal development and ethics, Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl aims to stave off corruption in the police force

CIUDAD NEZAHUALCÓYOTL, State of Mexico - On a recent afternoon, two dozen municipal police officers glided around a classroom in their socks, 9 mm submachine guns and pistols slung at their hips.

"Don´t be shy," said their instructor, encouraging them to slide their feet across a pile of brightly colored books strewn on the floor. "Let your toes do the exploring."

So what is this? A strange new fetish? Some eccentric fad?

Not quite.

Officials in this rough area east of Mexico City are trying to transform their police officers, among the most reviled members of Mexican society, by giving them a dose of culture: Classic literature, poetry, chess - and even sliding around in their socks if that´s what it takes.


His solution: A nine-point program that combines traditional police training with personal development and ethics. In addition to attending biweekly literature courses, officers must take computer classes, keep fit and learn to play chess - to improve their strategizing.


The most novel aspect of the program is the literature courses. The curriculum blends such classics as Don Quijote de la Mancha with crime novels.

The goal is to persuade officers to read one book a month, not an easy task in a country where one study showed that 40 percent of those older than 15 don´t read books.


"People think police are ignorant and corrupt, and that we don´t care about anyone but ourselves," said Pedro Martínez, whose first-person account of a shoot-out was chosen for publication. "But it´s a lie. And we´re proving it by what we write."

He said he had also developed an appreciation for reading - particularly Don Quijote. The officers created their own version of the 400-year-old Spanish classic by subbing key words with police code and acting it out.

"They´re like me and my partner," Martínez said of Quijote and his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza. "You always need a shield, someone to cover your back."

Amador has the backing of the new mayor, Víctor Bautista, a former leftist activist who has a personal interest in improving the police force. In 1982, he said he was briefly jailed and tortured by security forces during the government´s so-called dirty war against its opponents.

Amador said those types of complaints are decreasing.

"After two years of this program," he said, "I can categorically affirm that our officers are better police - and better citizens."

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