Baja California Attorney General Visits USD

By: Camille Edwards

On November 15, 2011, the International Human Rights Law Society hosted an event entitled Baja California’s Progress in Fighting Drug Cartels and the Implementation of a New Criminal Justice System.

The speaker was Mr. Rommel Moreno Manjarez, attorney general for the Mexican state of Baja California.  Mr. Moreno was appointed to this position on November 21, 2007, and since then has been at the forefront of combating the state’s crime and violence resulting from Mexican drug cartel disputes, due to Baja California’s precarious position near the Mexican-American border.

Mr. Moreno is highly qualified, with a long and distinguished career in government service, and a background in international criminal law.  Before being appointed attorney general, Mr. Moreno was the General Controller of the Federal Police and the Chief of Staff of the Federal Assistant Attorney General in Mexico City.  Mr. Moreno holds a law degree from University of Baja California with a concentration in international law. He also has certifications in criminal law from Salamantina University in Spain, and another certification in intelligence and security from LSD University in Israel.  Mr. Moreno has also taught law at three universities, including University of Baja California School of Law and CETYS University.

Mr. Moreno began by informing us that the Mexican-American border crime issue is not just local, but is the result of the international organized crime—specifically, the drug cartels.  The smuggling and illegal sale of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs, as well as firearms, across the border are part of a large web of related crimes that spread across the world.  Drug cartels are fighting for control over drug transportation and drug markets, and the resulting violence and homicides are spilling over the border into American border cities.  Since 2008, the number of deaths has been escalating as a result of the continuous confrontations among cartels and public policies for their eradication.

Baja California is a state plagued with smugglers and other criminals, and has experienced high levels of kidnapping, homicide, and auto theft.  When Mr. Moreno was appointed in late 2007, such crimes were at record high levels; for example, there were 250 kidnappings in 2007, a rate worse than that of Juarez, located on the Mexico-Texas border.

So Mr. Moreno set to work.  Speaking eloquently and passionately, Mr. Moreno explained that he first recognized that it is difficult for the states to confront organized crime, because they do not have the same level of funding and training as the federal government.  But it is crucial that members of Mexico’s state law enforcement are equipped to deal with the cartels, because they are on the front lines of this international crime battle; for example, 99 percent of the crime in Baja California is caused by the cartels.  State law enforcement must be able to react quickly and efficiently as problems arise.

Mr. Moreno’s approach to equipping the state police to battle the cartels has several steps.  First, he studied the border states, looking at the cartels to understand where the crime was stemming form: the drug trade.  The next problem is consumption; by lowering drug consumption, this cuts off the demand for the cartels’ product, shrinking their numbers.  Next Mr. Moreno focused on training and equipment; he has received increased funding for new instruments and training, and has stressed the importance of forensics.  Mr. Moreno has also sent Mexican citizens to San Diego State University to receive a Masters in forensics so they can come back to Baja California and work in the crime lab; he is proud that this has provided an excellent opportunity for Mexican citizens who normally would never be able to attend college.

Mr. Moreno also studied other countries and law enforcement agencies to see how they have achieved successes; for example, the FBI worked in conjunction with the government of Colombia to help decrease crime rates by focusing on training and depuration.  By observing and communicating with other agencies, he has learned valuable techniques that he has applied to his own police force.

Mr. Moreno’s efforts have resulted in some successes.  For example, he has arrested members of 28 cartels, resulting in 243 prosecutions.  The kidnapping rates per year have steadily decreased since his appointment in 2007, from 250 to a record-low 58 in 2011 (as of November).  Other states have been reforming their law enforcement and criminal justice system to combat crime, including Chihuahua and Oaxaca.

Mr. Moreno is also working to reform the members of law enforcement and improve their public image.  This includes educating the public.  Although crime levels are dropping, he believes that citizens do not feel safer.  He wants to increase public awareness of his progress, and also restore public faith in the police.  His methods to do so include having the police officers wear suits, to look more professional, and also training.  When Mr. Moreno visited Israel in 2007, he saw that citizens there trusted their police force, and envisions the same for Mexico in the future.

Mr. Moreno’s main goal is to help the people of Mexico and the United States, by learning from other law enforcement agencies and countries, and applying these methods to lower crime and increase the population’s trust in law enforcement.  He has worked tirelessly to do so, and has been rewarded with decreases in crime and increases in arrests of dangerous cartel members.  Although there is still a lot of work to be done to protect the citizens of the United States and Mexico from the violence of the drug cartels, it is good to know that Mr. Moreno is so dedicated to and passionate about his cause.

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