Mexican Drug-War Fighters - Police
By Julio A. Montes

In May 2008, seven Mexican federal policemen were gunned down in Culiacan, victims of an ambush by elements of the Beltrán Leyva cartel. The feds were part of a platoon of 30 policemen serving a search warrant and retrieval order against a property in Alba de Costa, in the Miguel Hidalgo neighborhood. Upon arriving at the location, the cops received heavy fire from the “security house,” and as they pulled back, a wall of fire came over them from all corners of the urban complex. The death toll was blamed on the superior firepower from the drug cartels. The policemen had come to the receiving end of sustained rifle fire and hand grenades. The police responded with pistols, submachine guns and a few rifles. The ambush resulted in the dispatch of an additional 200 elements of the FFA, to complete a military task force of 1,000 attempting to quell the resistance from the cartels in the city.

At the time of this ambush, the PFP claimed to have 4,000 rifles (mostly locally produced G3s in 7.62mm) to equip 30,000 federal policemen. Four years later the panorama is completely different. The Federal Police have received thousands of additional G3A3 and G3A4 rifles, and the U.S. has supplied quantities of Colt SP6940 Advanced Law Enforcement Carbines and M4A1 models. The SP6940 is a weapon designed with Mil-Spec hammer and trigger pivot pins. Its design includes a Mil-Spec backup iron sight and a folding front sight, straight gas tube and a removable lower rail. The Mexican police use all three types in the SP6940 series: the basic model with a 16-inch barrel, the SP6944, with a 14.5-inch barrel, and the R0923 variant.

The Mexican government has invested in thousands of Galil-ACE rifles as well. These are evolved Galil rifles, using the same basic mechanism, enhanced with human engineering and ergonomics and mounting multiple Picatinny rails for the use of a wide array of optical devices and accessories. The ACE 21, 22 and 23 series refer to the 5.56x45mm caliber weapons, with weights between 2.95 kg, 3.25 kg, and 3.40 kg, length that varied from 650mm, 767mm and 895mm, and with barrels between 215mm (8.45-inches), 332mm (13-inches) and 460mm (18-inches) in length.

A number of other weapons have been observed in the hands of the FP, in addition to the G3 and other already mentioned systems, to include the FN FNC, and the Bushmaster Carbon-15 in 5.56x45mm (weighing between 2.7 – 3.0 kg empty and loaded). The mentioned Bushmaster rifle refers to a product made with parts molded of Carbon 15 Composite, making for the lightest in the Bushmaster lineup of products. The use of lightweight Carbon 15 Composite makes for 40% stronger and 40% lighter receivers. The rifles come with full length anodized aluminum Picatinny Rail, AR style front sight and dual aperture flip-up rear sight.

For precision work, the Mexican Feds use the DPMS Panther in 7.62x51mm (weighing between 3.5 – 5.5 kg) and equipped with 20-round magazines, as well as Bushmaster .450 and Remington 700. The Bushmaster .450 is a big bore rifle using a M16/AR design. The cartridge “is adapted from a 6.5mm – .284 case with necking cut off to accommodate the 250 Grain Hornady SST Flex Tip .450 caliber bullet.” The rifle comes with either a 16-inch or 20-inch heavy barrel - chrome lined bore and chamber, and usually uses a 5-round capacity single stack magazine.

Sniper units have also received Sniper Galils. This rifle is basically a customized precision rifle, using the same Galil mechanism, and chambered in 7.62x51mm, equipped with a muzzle brake, jump compensator and a flash suppressor, which assists in reducing recoil by 30%. These aids enable the shooter to observe his target through the telescope, fire, and immediately firing of an additional round if necessary against the same target. The rifle mounts a Nimrod X10 telescope, has a two stage trigger design, and the standard magazine holds 25-rounds. It comes with a folding stock, ergonomic pistol grip and adjustable hand support, as well as bipod. Its weight is 5.7 kg and its overall length is 1,100 mm.

If sustained fire is need, the Federal Police (FP) has access to HK-21 LMGs. These are made in Mexico under license from HK, and are particularly useful for assault. A huge and pleasant surprise was to find the M60E4 in the hands of the FP. Without a doubt these are part of U.S. shipments in support of the FP since the Mexican government forces have never before made use of the M60. Rather than getting the obsolete M60 model, Mexican cops got the improved E4, featuring modern accessory rails, a shortened barrel, and improved reliability, and reduced weight.

For lighter work, the FP also uses the IWI Negev in 5.56x45mm. Other small arms in the hands of the Mexican Feds are Mossberg 500 shotguns, MP5 and Uzi submachine guns, Colt AR-9, and a large selection of pistols: Beretta M92, Glock 17, USP, P-7/13, Walther P99 and SW 686. The GEO is known to use the M 203 as well.

G-Man – Mexican Style

In order to combat the cartels and organized crime, the federal law enforcement agencies have been overhauled and reorganized. The reorganization of the Mexican Federal Police forces was announced several years ago. In 2007, the Military Organic Laws were changed to allow the establishment of the Federal Support Force Corps (CFAF - Cuerpo de Fuerzas de Apoyo Federal), fielding an initial strength of 1,884 elements, taken from the reorganized Special Amphibious Forces Groups (GANFE - Grupos Anfibios de Fuerzas Especiales). However, after much going, the CFAF did not materialize. Plans also called for the formation of a 40,000-strong Federal Police Corps (CFP - Cuerpo Federal de Policía), and establishing a form of gendarmerie to take on the fight around towns with less of 20,000 inhabitants. The plan had been proposed with the assistance from experts from the National Security and Investigation Center (CISEN - Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional), the PFP (Preventive Federal Police) and the AFI (Federal Investigations Agency), with advice provided by the Spanish Civil Guard, FBI and DEA.

The description of a “gendarmerie” did not go well in some circles, deploring the use of European terms to describe something “very national.” For sure, the overhaul of the law enforcement machine was without precedent in Mexico and an extremely difficult task. Three years after these announcements, the federal law enforcement agencies have been overhauled., but once accomplished, talk started of doing the same with all half million police officers in the nation.

On July 10, 2008, it was announced that the PFP (Policía Federal Preventiva) would double its strength. A few months later it was announced that the complete agency was going to be overhauled. In the meantime, the idea to establish the CFAF had been overtaken by extending and evolving the Federal Support Force (FFA - Fuerzas Federales de Apoyo). The FFA was organized with military forces to be involved in internal security, and had been operational since 1999 as part of a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Public Security Secretariat (SSP) and the National Defense counterpart (SEDENA). In order to legally allow this situation, the Calderon Administration sought to reform Constitutional Article 21 in 2008, and the General National Public Security Law in 2009.

In 1999, the FFA had been organized with 15,000 soldiers distributed into 40 Immediate Alert and Reaction Groups (FRAI - Fuerza de Reacción y Alerta Inmediata) and another 5,000 distributed among 20 Restoring Public Order Units (UROP – Unidades de Restablecimiento del Orden Público). In 2001, the Mexican Navy provided 500 sailors to reinforce the PFP, and these were later moved as part of the FFA. In 2006, the FFA received an additional 6,221 militaries; this included the entire 3rd Military Police Brigade (5,332 strong), with HQ at Military Camp 37-C at San Miguel de los Jagüeyes, México State. The MPs were tasked to perform high impact missions.

Finally, on December 13, 2008, the Mexican Government introduced the Federal Police Corps, most commonly known as the Federal Police. It was stated that the plan to fuse the PFP and the AFI had been hatched in 2006, to form the core of the proposed Federal Police Corps, denying that it was the intention to establish something similar to the Colombian National Police or other similar entities, and in no way similar to the mentioned European gendarmeries, but it was an effort to bring all federal forces under a single command and unique structure. The original plan included to absorbed State and Municipal police agencies, but at the end this was not implemented.

The new federal force fielded six divisions: Intelligence, “social proximity” police, anti-drug, judicial services, ministerial services, and national level analysis information, charged with the partnering to Interpol and the mentioned FFA. All in all, the FPC had an initial strength of 30,000 agents. The new entity was in reality a revamping of the older PFP since the complete entity was absorbed into the new FP, along with the Federal Highway Police, and the Ministerial and District General Police. The FP also absorbed the complete 3rd Military Police Brigade and elements from the Mexican Navy. This meant that it would assume immediate control of 34 regional police stations, Join Investigation Units (UCIP - Unidades Conjuntas de Investigaciones Policiales), 112 urban police stations, 62 rural police stations and 31 tactical operational centers and mobile crime prevention units. The fight against the cartels and organized crime was to be spearheaded by elements of the Federal Force and Regional Security Divisions from the Federal Police Corps. The FP also incorporated the 20 previously mentioned UROP (anti-riot - Restablecimiento del Orden Publico), and reorganized and trained the Immediate Alert and Reaction Group (RAI - Reaccion y Alerta Inmediata), and the Special Anti-hijacking Combat Units (UECS - Unidades Especializadas en el Combate al Secuestro). Later, the FP fielded the Protection Branch Service (OAD-Servicio de Protección Federal) in order to provide a security details to VIPs.

At the time of the PFP, hostage rescue and special operations fell to the Special Police Operations Group (GOPES), the Mexican version of the FBI-RST. The unit was absorbed by the FP as the Special Operations Group (GEO – Grupo Especial de Operaciones). Today, it probably operates in the same manner than the previous GOPES: in teams of two operators, making up 8-man squads. The GEO is believed to comprise 300 operators divided into Explosives (Área de Explosivos), Intervention (Área de Intervención), Urban Assault, and Rural Assault Teams. There is also a Tactical Support Unit and a K9 outfit. The Tac Support Unit has been equipped with Mi-17 Kazan, AS 350 B3, AS 350 B2 and AS 355 N helicopters. More recently the U.S. has supplied UH-60M, and Mexico has purchased EC715. Additional machines include EC-120 B and Bell-206 Jet Ranger III models.

Other Federal Forces

The Policía Federal Preventiva (Preventive Federal Police), absorbed by the FP, had been established in 1998 by then President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León. At the time of its absorption by the FP in 2008, the PFP fielded 20,182 agents.

The FP also absorbed some elements of the Mexican version of the FBI: the AFI. The Federal Judicial Police (PJF) was transformed into the Federal Agency of Investigations (AFI - Agencia Federal de Investigación) under the Fox Administration in 2001, and placed under the control of the General District Office (PGR - Procuraduría General de la Republica). The AFI fielded 5,893 detectives by 2008. Only part of the AFI was transferred to the new investigation branch of the FP, with the AFI remaining under the PGR with new and expanded duties.

Soon after the FP became operational, President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa inaugurated the new Federal Police HQ at Iztapalapa. This would become the standard for the 1st Model Police Station, followed by 40 of such installations distributed in 27 States. These installations included a hangar, heli-pad, shooting range, and accommodations for police and military forces. The FP had an initial strength of 35,386 Feds, with an additional 3,000 added by 2011. These were deployed to new installations at Uruapan, Michoacán; Querétaro; Hermosillo, Sonora; Matamoros, Tamaulipas; Cuernavaca, Morelos; Matehuala, San Luís Potosí; and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Police stations were overhauled in Hermosillo, Sonora, Chihuahua; Culiacán and Mazatlán, Sinaloa; Veracruz; Aguascalientes; Tepatitlán, Jalisco; Tapachula, Chiapas and Tlalnepantla de Baz. Police heliports were built at Aguascalientes, Tapachula, Hermosillo and Culiacán.

Mad-Max Sequel

In 2009 the FP announced the acquisition of 10 armored transports. One of the first police outfits to receive such vehicles was the FP at Culiacan, Sinaloa. The APCs had been acquired as a direct result of the ambush described earlier, which had cost the lives of 7 federales.

In July 2009, the FP dispatched 300 agents to Michoacán. Support came from three armored assault vehicles. In March 2012, the FP dispatched 200 policemen to Monclova, Coahuila. The convoy was escorted by Puma APCs. So the FP has added a healthy supply of police armored tactical vehicles. The largest armored vehicle available to the FP is the Rhinoceros, a large armored truck used to bus troops or to transfer prisoners. The main supplier of armored vehicles for the Federal Police is the Carat (former Centigon) Security Group from Monterrey. In addition to the “Rino,” Carat has supplied an armored truck based on the Ford truck series, named Wolverine by the factory, and Alacran (Scorpion) by the Federal Police. There is also an armored vehicle based on a Toyota HZJ79 chassis, and named Puma by the FP and Black Scorpion by the factory. The Black Scorpion APC Family consists of an Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV), a Fast Attack Vehicle (FAV) and a Police APC configuration, all using the same Toyota chassis. The Rino refers to a variation of the Carat’s Big Bear model, which converts a big wheeler into an armored truck.

The Federal Police have also adopted the Unimog U4000 Truck for general transport. This could eventually lead to the acquisition of the Centigon Armored Troop Transport, which basically consists of the basic Unimog truck equipped with an armored body that provides 360 degree protection, and defense against mine blast.

The zenith of the police armored vehicle saga came in July 2011, when the FP found an armored vehicle assembly in Fresnillo, Zacatecas. There were four trucks in the process of being converted into APCs for the use of Los Zetas. These Mad-Max style armor vehicles received the name of Monsters. These are used for security of drug shipments around Tamaulipas. Mexican forces have seized over 110 armored vehicles, to include 30 "monstruos" in the last few months and one of the seized models tipped 30 tons. The term of Monster is exclusive to armored trucks, since there are other types of armored vehicles being used by the drug cartels, such as improvised pickup trucks and factory made models.

The FP does not count with M40A1 RCLs, as does the military, so to soften up targets such as these, the Mexican Feds use the Barrett Model M107A1 in 12.7x99mm (.50 BMG). The gun comes with a lightweight aluminum upper receiver with integrated rigid 27 MOA optics rail and a lower receiver with a new aluminum recoil buffer system. Some circles also mention the presence of the Barrett M-99-A1, also in caliber 12.7x99mm (.50 BMG).

State and Municipal Forces

In addition to the military and federal police tactical units, the various State and Municipal police departments deploy a number of rescue and intervention units, each under different standards and equipment. There is a SWAT Mexicali working under the Municipal Public Security Direction, Special Project Team (EPE) from Chihuahua; the Anti-Hijacking Specialists Unit (UEA), Sinaloa; Special Capture Unit (UNESA), also in Sinaloa, the Immediate Reaction Special Group (GERI) and the Special Tactical Group (GET), working in Guanajuato, Hawk Group from Puebla, and many more.

The local police arsenals are also interesting. In June 2012, the Municipal police from Ciudad Juarez received 470 DPMS Panther AR-15s. The rifles were part of a load destined to equip 18 Municipal Police Departments around the country, to include a donation of 700 of the mentioned DPMS models. In October 2011, police elements from the Municipality of Caborca, Mexico State, were being trained in the use of the Galil-Ultra. This refers to an upgrade kit available to the three variants of the rifle (AR, SAR & Micro). The kit comprises an ergonomic hand grip for Picatinny rails, telescopic butt and ergonomic pistol grip. The basic mechanism of gas on a piston head and rotating bolt locking operation of the Galil remain intact.

The HK-33 and HK-53 models are also popular among police units. However, the presence of HK G36 rifles in the hands of the State Police officers from Chihuahua, Jalisco, Chiapas and Guerrero have caused some issues in Germany since the government prohibited the sale of G36 to those mentioned police entities in Mexico. However, the State Police agencies are prohibited in turn from engaging in individual purchases, and are required to negotiate any acquisition through the National Defense Secretariat on their behalf. Furthermore, the G36 is built under license in several other countries.

There are other problems. In March 2012, for instance, the complete force from Mocorito Municipal Police, a small police outfit from Sinaloa State, was summoned to the local Mexican Army 42nd Infantry Battalion barracks in Guamúchil, Culiacan. The soldiers were to inspect and trace all its weapons after a military convoy had been attacked in the area. Obviously, the soldiers believed that they had come under fire from police officers. The 42nd responds to the Third Military Region from Mazatlan, which has ordered the inspection of all police arsenals in the State.

The new Mexican government voted into office in July 2012 will bring about new efforts and new initiatives to shape up and reorganize law enforcement in this country. It is critical for the State to assert its role and control over its territory before the fight spills over to other regions. A futile effort since some areas in Central America are already immersed in similar fighting to the point that several regional Presidents are pleading to legalize drugs, something strongly opposed by Washington. And some U.S. communities along the border are already under fire. The drug war in Mexico, Central and northern South America is becoming extremely vicious, with thousands gunned down since 2006. Most Americans pay little attention to the fight across the border because it takes place in a “far away” place. Many simplify the problem as a Mexican and Central American issue, a result of their corrupt and violent societies. However, there is no escape to responsibility: the brutal struggle today is mainly fueled and financed by the drug demand in the north.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (October 2012)
and was posted online on September 7, 2012


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