Serve and protect is far from a reality for police in Mexico. While there are many honest, hardworking cops in the Mexican local and federal police forces, they sadly operate in a system which fosters corruption. A history of scandals have tainted the institution, with officers either being paid to look away or not trained enough to know how to act.

A common question among Grupo IRENA’s clients, mostly investors in Mexico, is whether they can trust the police in times of trouble. In case of robbery or kidnapping, will an investigation really be opened? Can local patrol cars be counted on to attend the scene of a crime rapidly? A new program has begun to change this in recent years.

Your friendly neighborhood cop

Tired of the continuing negative reputation, authorities made an attempt to change this in 2016. A new type of police, known as Policía de Proximidad, was put in place to make cops more efficient and responsive, while increasing citizen supervision.

Mexico City was divided into 847 quadrants with a mobile police unit in charge of attending any emergency within each quadrant. The aim, authorities said at the time, would be for units to require an average of 2 minutes and 50 seconds to reach any crime or incident in their quadrant, including in sensitive areas such as schools and banks.

This was accompanied by a free number (5208 9898) for citizens to directly reach the police unit in charge of their quadrant. A phone app, Mi Policia, was made freely available for citizens to find the mobile phone number of their local beat cop.

Two years on, Policía de Proximidad has been rolled out in more cities, including Guadalajara, Los Cabos and Morelia. But has it really had an impact?

Some notable benefits

Overcoming the deep mistrust in police present across the Mexican public and enterprises is a huge task. It is impossible for any single program to make a significant dent while corruption remains unchecked in the upper echelons of government.

However, Policía de Proximidad has made a measurable notable improvement. It seems Mexico has finally understood and applied one of the basic tenets of community policing around the world. Seeing the same faces and same cars every day breeds trust and confidence. Furthermore, being known in the area means a policeman will find it far more difficult to carry out petty crimes or ask for a bribe. He would be caught immediately.

Part of the quadrant system is that officers are rotated out only when absolutely necessary, with most staying for months or years in the same posting. This allows Mexican citizens, even in the larger cities or neighborhoods, to associate a face to a name and reach that person when an emergency strikes.

Another notable improvement: the adoption of bicycles. 2,400 police now cycle in the streets of Mexico City and staff 409 surveillance centers which the public can visit at any time. Other elements have helped this system make a real difference. Home visits by local cops can now be reassuring events, instead of the smash and grab operations they often were.

The Policía de Proximidad program has also benefited from being somewhat isolated from other police units, such as having its own operational center and with each patrol car being tracked by GPS.

Copyright: Gobierno de CDMX

Mexico’s specific goals

It is important to note a major difference between the Western concept of “community policing” and Policía de Proximidad. Community policing, especially under the British model, is integral to becoming a familiar, reassuring presence. Police officers might visit homes, speak in schools, play football with kids, essentially become a local ambassador.

In Mexico, the goal is simpler: to bring police where there were none. A decade ago, many parts of Mexico City never saw police. Now, these new officers are reclaiming lost territory.

This does not mean they are particularly brilliant at their jobs. A lack of training and devotion in the Mexican police force is a real problem. Most rookies join the force because they want a steady paycheck, not because of some devotion to duty.

However, while the integrity and trustworthiness of every cop in the Policía de Proximidad program cannot be guaranteed, it would be wise of any business in an area under this program to get to know their local officer and cultivate a relationship with them. This makes their cooperation all the more likely should an incident happen.

Overcoming impossible odds

The success of Policía de Proximidad is a positive step. However, it has struggled to make a real dent. According to the ENVIPE 2017 poll, measuring the population’s stance on public security, 80 percent believe their local police are corrupt and less than 50 percent trust police in general.

As long as patrolmen are under pressure to pay bungs to their superiors on a weekly basis, and honest hires are ground down by a system too perverse to really make a difference, it is difficult to imagine this reputation improving.

New president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has long criticized the use of army soldiers to maintain peace in the streets of Mexico. However, since being elected in July, even he has admitted the army will remain deployed as the police is incapable of picking up the strain.

Phone extortion is a scourge across Latin America. Any business or individual in the region is likely to face this threat, directly or indirectly. For many, these calls are an inconvenience but, with methods becoming more varied and personalized, they can become all too serious.

The usual method of scammers seeking to convince random targets that a loved one has been kidnapped remains popular. However, the ability to find out or buy personal and corporate data has given rise to new threats.

Grupo IRENA has advised dozens of clients across Latin America on how to avoid being targeted by such extortion attempts, how to deal with them when they do arise, and what steps to take in their aftermath. Our Emergency Hotline, Irena 24, is staffed 24/7 to help you deal with these threats and make you feel safe.



  • Just hang up – extortionists make hundreds of calls. Hanging up will most likely make them give up.
  • Don’t answer unknown calls – if someone really wants to reach you, they’ll call back.
  • Don’t trust your ears – that child crying is not your precious baby, it’s pre-recorded.
  • Don’t tell them anything – they will try to get info from you to make the scam seem real.
  • Don’t go alone – they may try and isolate you, making you easier to manipulate. Stay close to or contact someone who knows where you are.


The foundations of any phone extortion remain the same : strike fear in the victim, rapidly gain useful information and ask for a quick ransom/payment.

The Mexican authorities term these crimes ‘virtual kidnapping’ because the majority continue to involve criminals telling the victim that a loved one has been kidnapped and that a ransom must immediately be paid to secure their release.

As the gangs involved make thousands of calls to snare victims, the lies have become more frustrated. The target may be told they are speaking to a family member who is in urgent need of money. They may pretend to be from a cartel looking for security money or even to be watching your house at the very time. This may sound terrifying but it is exceedingly unlikely to be true. Investigations have found that the majority of these scam calls came from inside Mexican prisons.

An another popular technique is to call wealthy private residences in the middle of the day, when a maid is likely to be at home alone. The criminal will then pose as the family’s lawyer or notary in urgent need of funds for a major transaction or contact. This has proved successful as maids/staff likely know where valuables are kept and may be scared of losing their job if they do not comply.


Another popular technique is to call private residences in the middle of the day, when a maid or other employee may be alone at home. At the home of one of Grupo Irena’s clients, the criminal presented himself as being the family lawyer who needed emergency funds to make a significant contact. This proved effective because the housekeeper knew where the safe was and was afraid of losing her job. Fortunately, his employer arrived home on time and immediately hung up. This demonstrates the importance of making any member of your team / staff aware of these threats.


The variety of tactics employed and the success they generate has led to an explosion of such crimes. In 2017, Mexico saw 7.5 million phone extortion calls. This led the government to create a national hotline (*5533) and an app for victims to report them. However, this has not had great success with 93 percent of extortion calls going unreported. When asked why they did not report such crimes, Mexicans said they either saw it as a waste of time or had no faith in the authorities. With 4.4 percent of reported instances being solved, it is hard to deny they may have a point.

Therefore, it falls on individuals, families and businesses to protect themselves and their interests ahead of time :

When you get a call from an unknown number

  • JUST HANG UP ! Remember, extortion can only work if you engage with the criminal. The best way to avoid this is simple. Hang up and they will leave you alone.
  • Do not answer calls from unknown numbers on the first try (if somebody really wants to speak with you, they’ll call back). If you do answer, the minute you feel suspicious, hang up ! The vast majority of scammers will give up at this point.

If a conversation does start:

  • Information is power! Scammers are on a clock, they want to pick up on hints you give them to build up their story’s serious character
  • Don’t believe their lies: The criminals may play a recording of a woman or a child’s voice sounding scared. This is in the hope, for example, of making a distraught parent blurt out the name of their child. If you are worried about the whereabouts of your loved one, call them or a carer/teacher/co-workers immediately to locate them.
  • Truth can hide a lie : Many victims have fallen into an extortion scam because the criminals are in possession of some real information. Hearing an extortionist refer to you by name and knowing where you live is certainly scary. But, more than likely, they bought a database of names and addresses and are working their way down. They’re not targeting you personally.

Verbal pressure and tricks

  • Slow it down : As mentioned earlier, speed is everything to a scammer. They are highly skilled at parsing information, stating their ransom demand early and doing everything to make the person pay up. This includes not giving them an instant to breathe or think. Orders are barked out, demands are repeated, threats are made to keep the victim off-balance. Respond by asking detailed questions. Demand guarantees the loved one is safe. Ask questions only the allegedly kidnapped person might know.
  • Alert your family and friends : Again, it is highly unlikely that your child/spouse/parent/insert relative of choice has been kidnapped. However, to be on the safe side, when a call like this is ongoing, reach out to your network. This can make it more likely the person will be found, if they didn’t answer you, and also lets other people know what is happening.
  • Don’t go alone : It’s dangerous out there. When a victim engages with the criminal, a common tactic is to isolate the person. The person may be asked to leave their home or hotel, buy another mobile phone, deposit money at a bank, and will be threatened if they do not comply at once.
  • Ignore good cop/bad cop : To keep the victim off-balance, the extortionists may vary between direct threats, promising violence on the kidnapped person if a ransom is not paid, and cajoling, vowing all will be fine if demands are met.

How can Grupo IRENA help you ?

Grupo IRENA is here to help its clients deal with any extortion attempts. If you feel any doubt or concern during or after a phone extortion, call us immediately. We will carry out a detailed, methodical analysis of the event and guide you as to the best course of action. If you feel unsafe, we can also deploy a patrol car to provide security at your home and office.