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It was a sunny day in Mexico City, and I was digging my fork into an omelet in a coffee shop when I noticed a long table with about a dozen policemen eating breakfast. I approached the officer at the head of the table and said that American tourists were very concerned about violence in Mexico. I asked if I might talk to him about the situation. Several of the officers smiled and said I had the chosen the right man: Luis Rosales Gambos, the undersecretary of police operations for Mexico City. His job is preventing crime. Equally serendipitous, all of the other police with him were commanders in the Cuauhtemoc district, which encompasses the historic center of the city.
According to the police chief, from 2010 to 2013, crime in Mexico City has decreased by 33 percent. Not only can foreign tourists feel safer walking around the city, but domestic tourism is increasing as well. In the area around the historic center, where most visitors spend their time, there are nearly 1,100 police officers and 1,075 security cameras. And to augment the safety of drivers and walkers, the 200 traffic cameras that dotted Mexico City in the past have now been increased to an omnipresent 13,000.
“The chief only sleeps four hours a night, so he accomplishes a lot,” said an officer with a huge smile. “He probably lies awake thinking about security.”
The chief, a modest, affable man, said he is passionate about his job and wants access to security to exist across all platforms. There is now an iPhone/iPad/iPod app called “My Police” which provides immediate contact with officers. In addition, tourists can dial the emergency number 066 from a local phone, and a care center secretary can be reached by calling 52-55-5208-9898 from a foreign mobile phone. And tourist police, who are visible everywhere and can be recognized by their special logos, speak both Spanish and English.
The chief added that the region’s world-class sites — including Teotihuacan, Templo Mayor, Chapultepec, the National Museum of Anthropology, Xochimilco and the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan — have tourist safety programs in place.
“Our job is to protect and serve our visitors,” he said.
Article 63 of the Law of Federal District Tourism states that there must be courses, seminars, workshops, congresses and meetings to train the police in tourism-related activities. A program called “Safe Terminals” prevents crime in bus terminals and the neighborhoods surrounding the terminals. Also, instead of having one centralized police bureau, Mexico City has been divided into 75 sectors. The local police in each sector can closely monitor the security situation on the ground and respond more quickly to any reports of crime or issues involving safety.
“Mexico City is a fabulous destination for tourists,” one of the policemen said.
He is right — other urban centers around the globe can learn a lot from the effective, proactive attitude of the police in Mexico City.
The chief offered numerous tips to ensure the safety of visitors. Almost all of them are applicable to travel in any large city — such as not wearing expensive jewelry or carrying large sums of money or unnecessary credit and debit cards — but some of the chief’s points are specific to Mexico City and good reminders, no matter where you go.