During the mid 1990s, drug trafficking surged in Mexico as criminal organizations took advantage of critical deficiencies in federal law enforcement. 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. They created systems for screening, training, evaluating, and promoting personnel, and they significantly expanded data collection and the use of technology. This case study shows how a determined leader and his team pushed through legislative changes and began to build organizational and human 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—especially those that aim to reform organizational cultures.
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.