Mexico sweeps out police chiefs

MEXICO CITY – Mexico replaced the federal police chiefs from each of the country’s 31 states and the Federal District on Monday, pending polygraph and drug tests to determine whether they are on the right side of the law in the nation’s foundering drug war.

The surprise purge of top leaders of the federal police and an elite federal investigations agency comes as Mexican President Felipe Calderon seeks traction in a six-month-old campaign against drug traffickers that’s neither stemmed the killings nor slowed the shipments.

Corruption among local, state and federal law enforcement has for years given cover to drug smuggling gangs, now at war over access routes to the United States, and over Mexico’s growing domestic markets.

“Every federal cop is obliged to carry out his post with legality, honesty and efficiency,” Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said at a news conference Monday announcing the house-cleaning.

“In the fight against crime, we have strategies. One axis of our strategy is to professionalize and purge our police corps.”

The former top cops were replaced Monday by federal officers who have passed a rigorous screening, Garcia Luna said.

Shortly after taking office in December, Calderon sent the army to work alongside federal police in nine states. But there are growing suspicions that millionaire kingpins continue to buy protection as easily as ever, despite Calderon’s efforts.

A half dozen federal police were arrested earlier this month when their army counterparts discovered they’d allowed a cocaine shipment to pass through the Mexicali airport.

About a third of Mexico’s 20,000-member federal police force, which investigates all drug crimes and homicides, is assigned to work alongside the 12,000 soldiers employed in Calderon’s anti-trafficking campaign.

That pairing has raised speculation about information being leaked to smugglers and growers.

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