Mexico police struggle with lack of respect

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — When gangsters kill a police officer — or even three of them — it rarely makes news in this violent border city.

What's worse, hardly anyone seems to mourn fallen cops.

When officers are gunned down, as they have been 65 times so far this year in this city alone, and 475 times across the nation just through October, many citizens think it's because they're crooked or mixed up with drug cartels.

So on a recent day, the fate of municipal police Officers Pedro Ramos, Mayra Ibarra and Osvaldo Rodriguez as they sat in a parked police pickup caused little stir.

The officers were patrolling in the San Felipe del Real district of this city of 1.3 million people. They pulled up to an elementary school, and a fourth officer hopped out to get a signature on a log to show that the cops had made their rounds.

The other three, all relatively inexperienced, made a tactical error that cost them their lives. They sat in the double-cabin pickup, enclosed and barely able to fire back when gangsters in two vehicles pulled up and squeezed the triggers on assault weapons.

After the shooting stopped, the police vehicle rolled a hundred yards down a hill and rammed a telephone pole. Inside, all three officers were slumped over dead.

When word of the hit spread, dozens of state and federal law enforcement agents flooded in, taping off several blocks and patrolling neighboring streets in search of the gunmen.

Observers and citizen advocates acknowledge that police officers get little respect in Mexico. Underpaid, under-trained and facing severe threat from powerful organized-crime groups, cops often see their jobs as only one step better than unemployment.

"It's like the last option for work for a young person. People say, 'You couldn't find work? Become a policeman,' " said Gustavo de la Rosa, a Chihuahua state human rights ombudsman.