Refashioning the Federal Police Service: Mexico, 2006-2012


During the mid 1990s, drug trafficking surged in Mexico. Because of a lack of training, poor equipment, and inadequate management practices, policing remained reactive rather than proactive, human-rights abuses were common, corruption was endemic, and the public’s trust in the country’s lead national-level public safety institution waned. Despite repeated efforts to introduce change, the challenges remained in 2006, when Felipe Calderón was elected president. Calderón placed combating organized crime and enacting police reform at the top of his policy agenda and appointed Genaro García Luna as secretary of public safety. García Luna and his reform team sought to transform the service—at the time called the Federal Preventive Police—into a larger and more professional, civilian-led organization capable of collecting and analyzing intelligence to investigate crime as well as to reduce the incidence of federal offenses such as drug trafficking. This case study shows how a determined leader and his team built organizational capacity, although their efforts made only a small difference in internal and external accountability during their time in office. It also points out some of the difficulties that impede institutional makeovers.

Editor's note: On Dec. 10, 2019, the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York announced the indictment and arrest of Genaro García Luna (DOJ bulletin ) on charges of drug-trafficking conspiracy and making false statements. The case docket number is 19-CR-576. This case study will be updated after the indictment is adjudicated.

Benjamin R. Naimark-Rowse and Ariana Markowitz drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Mexico during November 2012, February 2013, and March 2014. Patrick Signoret and ISS staff expanded the case study in 2018. Also see the ISS case studies on Mexico City police reform and Nuevo León police services reform.


police services
police reform
criminal violence
countering organized crime
creating new organizations
Focus Area(s): 
Accountable Policing
Critical Tasks: 
Building inter-agency cooperation
Civil service recruitment
Corruption in the Civil Service
Internal accountability
Organization and staffing
Ranks and grades
Core Challenge: 
Credibility (trust)
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform: 
Case Studies
Benjamin R. Naimark-Rowse, Ariana Markowitz and Patrick Signoret