The violence got so scary that hundreds of citizens occupied the Ascension town hall in May to demand that the Mexican army come protect them. Soldiers now rumble through a couple of times a week. Then they leave.
Jaime Antonio Chacón was on the beat here just three months when the rookie police officer stumbled upon an assassination in progress.
A couple of hitmen, known as sicarios in Mexico, were going after a local hoodlum when Chacón in his municipal police truck rolled into the middle of a gunfight last month. One of the sicarios took aim at Chacón’s forehead and squeezed off a single round.
In the video above, Chacón talks about how it feels to be a small town cop seriously out-gunned by drug-trafficking heavies with superior weapons and good aim.
There are more than 400,000 police officers in Mexico and the vast majority are municipal cops like Chacón. They are low paid, poorly trained, badly equipped. In Ascension, the police lack the working radios, bullet-proof vests and machine guns they want. Lousy morale creates ideal conditions for corruption, which is rampant in municipal forces.
Mexican cops also pay a heavy price. Since President Felipe Calderón declared war against the cartels in December 2006, more than 900 police and soldiers have been killed.
“This is dangerous work these days,” says Javier Muñoz Chavez, a veteran on the force.
“After the sun goes down,” Chacón says, “the shooting starts.”
We asked Chacón if he is afraid.
Not so much now, Chacón says, who was assigned to bicycle patrol. “Because I work during the day.”