Police shakedown & Ignorant Gringos


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Escrito por Scott desde 200.95.225.43 (host-200.95.225.43-cust.telemedia.net.mx) el día domingo, 06 de noviembre, 2005 a las 13:41:48 horas :

En respuesta a: Police shakedown escrito por steve from portland desde 201.154.124.52 (dsl-201-154-124-52.prod-infinitum.com.mx) el día sábado, 05 de noviembre, 2005 a las 10:59:17 horas :

It is very rude and arrogant to assume the police officer is corrupt. Based on posts like the parent, and a few articles I've read about it, I've come to the conclusion that many foreigners come here assuming the cops are corrupt. Then knowingly or unknowingly they break the traffic laws, get pulled over for it, assume the cop is corrupt and give him money, then go home and tell everyone how they got shook down by a corrupt cop in Mexico, perpetuating the stereotype.

But, based on posts like the parent, I see that usually the foreigner was guilty as charged, whether they accept it or not. I do not deny that most municipal traffic police will accept money. But I vehemently deny that they are going around looking to extort money from tourists for infractions they did not commit. I believe that in most cases where the foreigner got pulled over, they were truly violating the state traffic laws. There is no doubt this is the case with the parent poster.

I'm going to attach below an excerpt from a thread that appeared on Morelia Connect in late September. The American, a 36 year old man who has lived in Patzcuaro for a year, openly accused the cops of corruption for being pulled over for having tinted windows while travelling in the Estado de Mexico. This was at the same time Rob had said they were outlawed in Guerrero, so I looked up the law for the Estado de Mexico, and sure enough, they were against the law for the exact reason the cop had told the American. When reading, remember that mordita isn't even the correct word, it is mordida.

This is a prime example of a foreigner, who has been here for a significant amount of time, who completely mishandles a routine traffic stop. If I were the cops, I would be very upset with him for the lack of respect. If he got away without a ticket, he is very lucky in my opinion. These were good cops, doing their job. Pulling over a suspicious van driving at night with tinted windows -- which is illegal, unbeknownst to the foreigner who accuses them of corruption.

Different countries, different cultures, and different laws for different reasons.

Ps. otherwise the poster below sounds like a great guy, I can not say anything bad about him personally, I just want to illustrate this prime example of a foreigner telling people about the crooked cops in Mexico when they were just doing their job.


Another tale of mordita and cops...

The exact order of statements made in this conversation may be wrong. I need to travel with a small tape recorder with electrical tape hiding the recording indicator light.

I was driving at 1:00 am Friday morning September 16th, 2005 through Toluca, near Mexico City in my large van with tinted windows. Kinda tired, but just focused on driving and missing potholes, hitting topes slow and avoiding accidents.

A cop car with two cops inside pulled up on my left with its lights on and waved to over to the side.
They wear different style uniforms. The older one has a tan uniform which I think is transit, not sure.

Cop about 30-35 years old or so at the window. He asks what I am transporting. I say, "I have my stuff. Not much. clothes, books" The two cops look in with flashlights. As requested I turn on the interior light to help them see inside the van.
He asks where I am coming from and going to. I show him the little destination town on the map.

The cop says that I am not allowed to have tinted windows. (My side windows, except the passenger and drivers door ones are tinted.) I say the car came that way. He says it is illegal. I say I crossed the border in this vehicle and I never heard it was illegal before. He says I will have to pay or they will keep my documents and hand them to the other cop. I say... "Am I supposed to remove all the windows and get new ones?" He laughs/scoffs. He say that it is my car that was the guilty party for having tinted windows not me and that it had to have one of two special permits to have tinted windows cause cops need to be able to see into cars to make things secure for the public. One permit is if I am... not sure I understood right but it sounded like one permit was it I was impaired... (like maybe some vision-sun problem?) I forget the other reason; maybe I put it in my notes. And that I am supposed to have a sticker on my windshield to indicate I have this special permit.
I tend not to believe him and ask what the kind of office I would need to go to is to apply. What is its name? I don't recall what it was and am not sure that is in my notes.

He says they are going to have to take my license plate and the other cop goes to the front of the van. I say "lets go to the station now so I can pay there now."
He says we can't do that. They are closed.

He asked if I had come through there before, I say once, on the way to the airport.
They asked me if I knew where I was... I said "Toluca". They said "no.. you are in Metepec" The little town just past Toluca. I was pretty sure I was in Toluca and they were just saying that.

I told them "If this is about mordita then I don't pay mordita." Mordita (the bite) is a bribe and very common in Mexico. I am careful in my wording of this... I did not say he was asking for a bribe... I said "IF this is about mordita..." After all I would want to accuse a cop in Mexico of being corrupt. He stuck his face close to mine and cocked his head and narrowed his eyes... "What is mordita?" I repeated myself, he repeated himself. I don't know another word for mordita and I knew that he understood quite well anyway.

He is still threatening me with keeping my documents and/or taking my license place. They refused to take me to the station. They said the office I would have to pay at wouldn't open until Monday (this happened on Friday at around 1 am).

I was asking them to repeat themselves a lot because I wanted to be really sure I understood them... and I needed time to think.. I was feeling increasingly nervous and vulnerable since they could take my van and leave me stranded.

I asked "What you want me to do? I could just sleep right here."

They continued. "Well we are going to have to take your back plate." I said that if I don't have a back plate I would get pulled over for that.
ok. More talking. Cops switch off for a sec... but the tan one is less motivated so the main guy comes back.

"You don't understand me", he said several times and looked more threatening.
I think I did understand him pretty well... If I don't pay them they are going to make some kinda trouble for me.
But I was prepared to put up with whatever bulls**t short of being beaten up, kill, or having my van taken away.

I said: "Give me a ticket then." I was resigned to whatever punishment and having to miss going to my destination possibly.
This went on for a while like this but they didn't seem to want to give me a ticket.

I am getting nervous cause this doesn't seem to be resolving itself and I don't like dealing with corrupt police. I repeat that they should give me a ticket.

"How much is the ticket?" I asked. I was considering paying the mordita just to get out of there and was trying to find out how much a real ticket might be. He didn't say how much it was and still hadn't shown me a ticket. I am pretty sure I am supposed to say: "Can I just pay for the ticket right now direct to you? How about $20?"

I asked him what the name of the office where my plates would be is and I wrote down the name and address. They will open Monday morning.
I say I have dogs at home who will have to get fed Monday, so going into the office Monday is not a very good option for me.

He indicated the other cop give me back my documents and restated that they were going to take my license plate.

I asked him his name and wrote it down. I don't know if he told me a real name and I didn't see a nametag. He had a jacket on.

The cop changes the subject and asks what profession I am in. I tell him I am a painter.
He asks some other questions about me and then walks back to back of the van. I figure he is removing my plates.

The transit cop (not the one I have been talking to) comes back and the other goes to the back of my vehicle. He asks if I want him to help me... I am not sure what he means and ask what he means. "Do you want me to help you?" "Uh... sure?"
He says he can help show me the way out of town. I say, "What? Come with me in my van...? no. I will follow you if you want, but I can find the way." I don't want the cop in my van. He waves me onward. I asked to be very clear, "I should go?" Answer "Yes."

I briefly was concerned that my leaving would somehow constitute me running and I was being setup for bigger trouble... but they did not follow me and it sunk in that likely I was being let go because I didn't pay the mordita and their threats were not working. I imagine they couldn't take me in for what I believe is a false charge. I am pretty sure there is no real law against tinted windows... after all I could have a van with no windows back there and I see vehicles with tinted windows all the time.

After I drove a few miles, I pulled over to check my plates since I wasn't sure if they had managed to remove then when I was talking with one of them.
They were both there! Yay! Then I wrote up a few notes on what happened so I could recollect it better.
I was kinda stressed from talking with these cops and not doing what they wanted. Not doing what cops want could be dangerous.
The whole interaction had taken 30-40 minutes.

Then I felt kinda mad:
These guys are not cops at all. They are just thugs... worse than thugs because their organized crime can be done publicly and funded publicly. And without real cops on the job, society if less safe. My friends here don't even think you should go to the police when you are victimized since the cops won't help and could hurt you in some other way.
Luckily these particular cops were not willing to beat me up or frame me for anything so their threats had no real bite, just bark.

Perhaps I will end up being damaged or in jail sometime, but for now I am proud that I was once again able to not participate in police corruption. It is interesting to note that the only trouble I have had while driving with the police and mordita has been while driving at night.

In retrospect I think that me asking for his name made him back off as he realized I would be more trouble than the bribe he could likely get out of a painter. And I just wasn't cooperating.

I know a few people reading this will think it is best to pay the mordita... I just don't happen to agree.
I think that especially as a foreigner it is not right to encourage corruption here.
I do have one Morelia friend, a young woman, who said that when she was pulled over recently and they wanted money but not to give a ticket. She refused to pay. More cops arrived and she felt very scared but still didn't pay. When she started calling her family the cops went away.

The mordita is optional. You don't have to pay. They are the ones who are guilty of the crime. Maybe I will make a little sticker for my drivers side window which says "I don't pay mordita." And make them either give me a real ticket or back off. That might shorten the process.
I am not against cops being paid a real salary or paying real tickets for real crimes. But police shouldn't be getting money by intimidating innocent people in any place.


My Response #1

I think you should give the cop the benefit of the doubt when you get
pulled over. If you start treating them like an arrogant American they
are only going to get upset with you. This includes telling them right
away that you won't pay a bribe, and so on.

I believe to have a credible source, who says that tinted windows are
against the law in Guerrero. So being pulled over for tinted windows
doesn't strike me as ludicrous. In fact it sounds legitimate. The
reason they gave you also sounds legitimate and is the reason this
person said they were outlawed in Guerrero.

The source is a naturalized Mexican citizen of American decent who
lives in Zihuatanejo and runs a website and message forum for that
area. He made a comment today about tinted windows being illegal,
completely unrelated to your post.

This helpful page has PDF versions of the laws for the state of Michoacan:

http://www.michoacan.gob.mx/gobierno/leg_estatal.php

I browsed quickly and saw at least one traffic law file.

I've got about 20,000 km of driving in Mexico between my two bikes,
not including car travel from Morelia to the border a couple of times,
and so on, and I've never had a problem with the police. Don't get me
wrong, I've been pulled over more times than I can remember, but only
for blatant violations of the law. I've probably been pulled over
about 15 times so far this year.

The last incident was last week. While stuck in traffic on Ventura
Puente waiting for the light at the aquaduct, another bike passed me
going down the opposing lane. Since it is an advanced green, you can
be reasonably sure there will be no oncoming traffic. I decided to
pull out over the yellow line and pass 25 cars, and cut through under
the wrong arch onto Madero. Apparently a cop on a Harley saw
everything, he was behind me. I got pulled over, and he told me he
would have to take my license and / or registration.

THIS IS STANDARD PRACTICE.

This is how they make you pay here. It isn't a threat, it is what they
do to ensure payment.

The only ticket I've ever had was for a burnt out tail light while
riding from Zihuatanejo to Ixtapa in the middle of the night. The
ticket had check boxes to signify what the officer had confiscated
(plates, registration, license), and the ticket said it was suitable
proof for 15 days that you are missing the required item because it
was confiscated.

Most of the cops are pretty cool if you are nice to them.

After talking my way out of that ticket, the conversation changed to
the cop asking me "hey, do you think your bike is faster than my
bike?" and so on. I continued on my way, and when I got downtown,
another cop at a red light started talking to me. I had previously
been pulled over by him for not having a helmet (I now use it 85% of
the time). When I left downtown a couple hours later, the motorcycle
cop was directing traffic and waved and said adios as I rode past him.

I'd take Mexican traffic police over Canadian or American ones any
day. I only offered a bribe once back in February or March 2003,
before I learned and / or accepted that offering a bribe only
perpetuates the situation. I have brought the odd Coca Cola to them
before, though, after the fact.

My Response #2

Brian:

I have looked up the law for Mexico State and tinted windows are in
fact against the law. The law states:

Artículo 36.- Queda prohibido que los vehículos porten en los
parabrisas y ventanillas, rótulos, carteles y objetos opacos que
obstaculicen la visibilidad del conductor. Los cristales no deberán
ser obscurecidos o pintados para impedir la visibilidad al interior.

http://www.edomexico.gob.mx/legistel/cnt/RglEst_032.html

It explicitly states that the windows can not be darkened or painted
preventing visibility to the interior.

As I said earlier, you should all start giving the cops here the
benefit of the doubt when you get pulled over. A lot of these horror
stories are based on a lack of understanding of the way things work
here and the differences in the law between our own countries and Mexico.

There is also a fine listed:

"Por negarse a entregar documentación oficial o la placa de
circulación en caso de infracción"

The traffic fines for the Estado de Mexico are ridiculously low. I bet
you it's cheaper to pay the fine for 90% of infractions you are likely
to incur than it is to pay a bribe. This of course doesn't count the
hassle when out of state.

I just skimmed over the entire Reglamento de Transito for Michoacan.
It is available at the link I gave in the previous message.

The fines here a much higher than Estado de Mexico. They start at 5
minimum salaries (40 pesos?). It is interesting to read. It confirms
certain ideas I've had but wasn't totally sure about. For example,
that the fine for speeding is 5 minimum salaries. It doesn't matter by
how much you are speeding.

In the Reglamento de Transito for our state, I do not see anything
preventing tinted windows on regular vehicles. I only noticed a
section preventing parabrisas polarizadas for collective transport
vehicles. But IANAL, and didn't study it in depth.

I'm still not sure about the left turn situation, even after reading
the reglamento. I don't think we're allowed to do left turns on
regular green lights here. But I'm not exactly sure when a left turn
is or is not allowed. With an arrow of course, but I'm not sure for
example if you can make a left turn onto a side street on a 4 lane
road, when there is no traffic coming, for example.

Scott



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