Troops removed 500 local police officers and took over law enforcement in one of Mexico's most violent cities on Tuesday in the government's latest effort to flush out corrupt police in its war on drug gangs, Reuters reported.
Army chiefs suspended a quarter of the municipal police force in Tijuana, across the U.S. border from San Diego, and soldiers and naval officers began patrolling some of the city's most dangerous areas, the army said.
"Those who are working for the other side are being kicked out," Lt. Col. Julian Leyzaola, Tijuana's police chief, told Reuters, referring to police officers who boost their income by working for drug cartels on the side.
The army aims eventually to suspend the remaining 1,500 officers and gradually rid the Tijuana force of corrupt police, Leyzaola added, but he did not give a time frame.
Widespread corruption among Mexico's badly paid police is undermining President Felipe Calderon's army-backed war on drug gangs. In Tijuana, endemic police graft is so bad that some officers openly work as hitmen for drug gangs.
Police corruption forced Calderon to turn to the army, which so far is seen as mostly uncorrupted, when he launched an all-out crackdown on violent drug gangs on coming to office in late 2006.
The military took over the command of Tijuana's police last year when Calderon sent in hundreds of troops to briefly disarm local police and patrol streets with federal forces.
But Monday's suspension is the biggest purge so far in Tijuana, where drug hitmen have killed some 210 people, including children, in the past month.
The city was once a freewheeling party town serving Americans tequila, sex and cheap medicines. But tourists have fled as drug war violence has spiraled out of control, leaving an unprecedented 4,300 people dead this year, their bodies sometimes dumped in acid or set on fire.
Several police purges have failed in Mexican cities bordering the United States and alliances between corrupt police and drug gangs are frustrating soldiers who set up road blocks, scour towns and search houses on a daily basis.