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Security experts say leaders need to address conditions, corruption in Sonora's municipal police

Experts say the recent kidnapping and killing of three police officers — all brothers — in southern Sonora is part of a bigger problem within the state’s municipal police forces.

Nearly 100 municipal police officers have been murdered in Sonora since 2018, including 11 so far this year.

Municipal police departments across the state are understaffed, underfunded, untrained and lack basic equipment to do their jobs, said Krimilda Bernal, director of the security-focused nonprofit Observatorio Sonora por la Seguridad. And it’s clear that — in part because of those conditions — there is significant corruption within some of the forces.

"Municipal police have the lowest budgets," said Marco Antonio Paz with another citizen led group, the Comité Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública de Sonora. "In recent years we've seen a major weakening of local police forces. We're in a type of crisis."

He said that more and more police are leaving the profession after seeing colleagues killed or because their pay is so low. In a state dealing with serious violence from drug cartels, he said, the job of local police has only gotten harder and more dangerous as their resources diminish. And many local police officers don't even meet minimum standards required for the job, including passing a test meant to ensure they aren't tied up with organized crime.

"They aren't even doing the bare minimum," Paz said of state and local leaders, who he blames for the depleted state of municipal police.

That won't improve, he said, until set budgets capable of under taking real improvements to local police department, he said.

Instead, state and federal leaders have turned to a growing presence of national guard and military troops — with more than 5,000 stationed in Sonora last year, Bernal said.

"We have more military than police now," she said. "And it's clear that it's not making us any safer."

Militarization has failed to curb soaring levels of violence and disappearances, she said.

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.