- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

MEXICO CITY The biggest city in the West is anxiously waiting for the new sheriff to come to town.
And waiting.
More than two months ago, Mexico City, with more than 20-plus million people the hemisphere's largest city, hired Rudolph W. Giuliani, New York's former mayor, to clean up crime and police corruption.
For $4.3 million, Mr. Giuliani and his consulting firm, the Giuliani Group, would bring to Mexico City his "zero-tolerance" policy, in which all crimes, even minor ones, are prosecuted.
The strategy led to a two-thirds reduction in crime in New York City from 1994 to 2002, so with high expectations, Mexico's capital geared itself up.
But Mr. Giuliani has yet to set foot in Mexico City; in fact, he's delayed his arrival indefinitely.
Since landing the Mexico City job, he's been a rumored candidate for some U.S. government jobs and the chairmanship of bankrupt WorldCom Inc. He's traveled to Europe, gotten engaged to be married and collected huge honorariums for speeches.
Meanwhile, skeptics here have raised questions about Mr. Giuliani's safety in Mexico City, and many crime experts and locals doubt his chances of success.
"People are pretty incredulous about him getting anything done," says Jorge Zamora, a Mexico City pharmacist, who says police regularly force him to pay bribes. "The corruption runs really deep. Frankly, I don't think he'll ever come."
A Mexico City police spokesman said Mr. Giuliani's first visit could come next month but added, "He'll only be here for short visits every three months."
Mexico City is a far different battlefield than the Big Apple.
"Among cops, it's obvious he doesn't know anything about the situation here," says Edgar Martin, one of the city's new tourist-oriented "Charro Police," police mounted on horseback and dressed as traditional Mexican cowboys, with wide-brimmed sombreros, bow ties, spurs and fancy saddles. "The two cultures are very different."
Mexico City's roughly 85,000 police, more than twice New York City's 40,000, are known to take protection money from the estimated 1,300 criminal gangs specializing in drug trafficking, bootlegging CDs and DVDs, and "express kidnapping," where people are picked up and forced to withdraw money from ATMs.
On average, police officers make a paltry $400 a month, leading to deeply institutionalized police bribery that reaches the highest echelons. In some cases uniformed police, required to have only a ninth-grade education, are themselves the perpetrators of crime. And victims are reluctant to go to the police, who frequently demand bribes just to investigate.
As a result, statistics on Mexico City crime don't begin to show the story. More than two-thirds of all crimes are estimated to go unreported, and 12 percent of reported crimes are solved.
A recent article in the journal Criminal Justice cast doubt on the efficacy of zero tolerance here, saying, "Mexico City's problems are quite different from those of New York, where criminality is not the child of the disintegration of a corrupt power."
Nonetheless, Mr. Giuliani maintains that he can make a dent in corruption in a year's time, saying he's "not sure those differences are relevant to crime reduction."
Hiring Mr. Giuliani isn't Mexico City's first foray into aggressive programs to clean up its act. In 1994, the city hired an active-duty general to lead the police force.
With elite squads trained by Colombian police, they spent several years unsuccessfully attacking crime. The campaign culminated in a scandalous 1997 raid that left six suspects shot execution-style and led to the resignation of the general.
With substantial help from Mexico's business elite, the city, under Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is taking another stab at corruption.
On a recent scouting trip, Mr. Giuliani's former police chief, Bernard Kerik, visited and toured some of the city's most crime-ridden areas.
But critics say he toured from a helicopter and that he did it to avoid treading the dangerous ground.
At the time Mr. Kerik said that "the objective is not to change the culture" and that a top initiative would be to raise police salaries.
Early this month, a rumor circulated that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was planning to kidnap Mr. Giuliani. The city denied the threat, but Mr. Giuliani, who has a detail of New York Police Department officers protecting him, acknowledged it and said he's undeterred.
He made waves here, though, when he declined protection from Mexico City police and opted to use private security when he visits.
"I can understand him being nervous. He doesn't speak Spanish, doesn't know the city, doesn't know what it's really like," says Gaspar Lugo, a street taco vendor who says he's witnessed hundreds of crimes by police. "But there's so much crime. I sure hope he gets here soon."

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