A struggle is also afoot to establish a legitimate local police force in Juarez.
Outright police involvement in drug trafficking appeared to reach its peak in 2008, when former Juarez public safety secretary Saulo Reyes, the highest-ranking local police officer, was arrested and extradited to El Paso.
Reyes, who served under Juarez Mayor Hector Murguis, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import more than 200 pounds of marijuana into the United States.
Mr. Murguia was elected mayor again in 2010 after a three-year hiatus and now appears intent on preventing a slide back toward the outright corruption that sullied his previous term.
In March 2011, he hired retired Mexican army officer Julian Leyzoala to take over the city’s public safety secretary post.
Prior to his arrival in Juarez, Mr. Leyzoala was credited with purging hundreds of corrupt cops from the city police force in Tijuana, where overall violent crime has also dropped in recent years.
Some think his presence in Juarez is beginning to yield similar results.
“There used to be zero confidence in the local cops here, and that’s changed with the new chief,” said Mr. Fornelli of the Mesa de Seguridad business group.
“He came in a year ago and found a force here that was totally demoralized. He began to work with them and give them more empowerment and to build up morale.”
“But it’s not a one-guy deal,” added Mr. Fornelli, who says the rise of local citizens groups such as his is contributing to an unprecedented era of civilian oversight of local and state law enforcement.
Appalled by the widespread judicial corruption in the region, Mesa de Seguridad began circulating petitions in 2008 calling for a new slate of state-level judicial authorities.
In addition to naming new officials, the Calderon administration responded by holding talks with the business group. A shining achievement of the talks has been the establishment of a voluntary 2 percent payroll tax on businesses in and around Juarez to help fund law enforcement programs.
Beginning later this year, the proceeds of the tax will be allocated directly back to the Mesa de Seguridad, which has been given exclusive authority over how the money is to be spent.
“It will about $4 million per year,” said Mr. Fornelli.