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The Challenges of Security Guards at Embassies

The classic depiction of American embassies in movies with heavily armed Marines at every gate is irrelevant to the vast majority of diplomatic missions in the world. Embassies often prefer to entrust their security to private agents, who understand the atmosphere a diplomatic mission wants to convey to its citizens and other visitors.

Here, we analyze the requirements asked of these security agents and what skills they must possess to hold a position which is far more subtle than it may appear.

In Mexico, Grupo Irena personnel currently protect the embassies of several European countries, such as France and the Netherlands, as well as the European Union.

Instead, guarding an embassy is a multi-faceted role, presenting challenges the public may not be aware of. Agents are a first line of defense, screening access to embassy or consulate grounds. These missions are considered part of the sovereign territory of the nation they represent, making this job very sensitive.

Needed skillset

They must be familiar with common consular services (passports, visas, birth certificates, etc) and know where to direct visitors within the embassy. They are trained to aid in the evacuation of the embassy in case of a threat such as earthquakes. In extremely rare occasions, a person may even approach the embassy to request political asylum, and agents must know how to handle this situation.

Consulates also provide crucial help for their citizens and aim to be seen as welcoming, as providing a touch of home when far away. As such, our personnel is trained to be courteous and friendly while maintaining a professional demeanor.

TRAINING

  • Screen visitors and guiding them within the embassy

  • Entrusted with checking ID documents

  • Direct visitors within embassy based on their need

  • Help evacuate embassy in case of natural disaster or security risk

  • Provide reassuring presence to diplomats and staff

However, Grupo Irena’s mission extends beyond the daily work of embassies and consulates. France maintains a vigorous cultural presence abroad, through worldwide institutions such as l’Alliance Francaise and local structures (Casa de Francia).

In Mexico City, the former embassy building is a beautiful turn of the century compound which is perfect to provide a haven of French culture. Acting as a library, an exhibition space and more, the Casa de Francia receives a constant stream of cultural aficionados from Mexico, France and beyond.

Naturally, such spaces are very welcoming to the public, similar to museums or libraries. However, Casa de Francia remains an embassy space. In this context, Grupo Irena staff maintain optimal security levels and strict protocols (ID check, metal detector, bag check) while also being discrete and accessible.

Grupo Irena is proud to have been tasked with these sensitive missions, helping European communities in Mexico to feel safe.

 

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The real security cost of fake news

 

Fake news may currently be the biggest cliché on the Internet. From the speeches of politicians to the manufactured quotes of company executives, fake news has become the ultimate defense. In an age where information has a shelf-life of only minutes, any real news which is unfavorable to someone can be denied or dismissed as fake, often without any consequences or checking.

However, this leads to a strange hybrid between fake news and urban legends which originate from half-truths. These can spread in many ways, through email and Whatsapp chains, the origin of which is completely lost.  False information spread online, either maliciously by those who want to cause harm to a specific target or unknowingly by the general public. This fake news is more insidious. It has no original source to track down, nobody knows who invented it. It has no end date, no news update that will change the narrative. Instead, these rumors may burn on social media for a day or a week or a month. They may flare out only to be restored in a burst of activity weeks later.

Fake kidnappings and real deaths

A dreadful example of this has surfaced in Mexico since the summer. All year, Grupo Irena has tracked fake news in the country concerning suspected gangs of child kidnappers across the country. Now while this sounds serious and plausible in a country so plagued with criminality, kidnappings in general tend to either be quick snatch and grab affairs (secuestro exprés) or well-planned, targeted plots, especially when targeting minors. There are real reasons to be scared of this. From 2006 to 2018, over 6,600 children and teenagers were declared missing.

Despite this, there is close to no credible evidence of gangs of men roaming the countryside, snatching children at will.

However, the shock of child kidnapping is anchored into Mexico’s subconscious. Stories like the murder of 14-year-old Fernando Marti in 2008 are not forgotten. This has made the Mexican public prime to believe fake news about child kidnapping. Tragically, this has had horrific consequences.

In August, four innocent people were burned alive on suspicion of being child traffickers in Puebla and Hidalgo. In September, a detective was doused in gasoline and burned to death by a mob of 100 people, again in Hidalgo. In the case of Alberto Flores Morales and Ricardo Flores Rodriguez, killed in Puebla on August 29, their deaths were broadcast on Facebook Live, where their own families witnessed it. The viciousness of these lynchings show both the fear that these rumors spread and the desire of vengeance that fake news can cause. In a supreme irony, the mob showed on Facebook Live what they felt they were doing to keep their children safe, but which only served to keep the fake news alive.

But why should this concern you?

Many headlines have covered how fake news distort perceptions of reality, allowing people to believe lies that coincide with their worldview.

At Grupo Irena, we battle another consequence. Fake news about crimes such as child kidnappings mean that our clients may overreact to nonexistent threats and ignore real ones.

Painful evidence of this came during the coverage of the Mexican earthquake on September 19, 2017. Journalists ran rampant with the story that a little 12-year-old girl, Frida Sofia, was alive in the rubble of her school. The news reached such levels that rescue workers at the school worked all day to save her before the truth broke. Frida Sofia had never existed. The time and resources of rescue workers had been used chasing a lie instead of saving people who were really in danger.

Fake news create real fears and have real consequences.

 

 

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Does Community Policing Really Work in Mexico?

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.