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Police — México

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Méxican police have a reputation for being corrupt. In reality, police corruption in México is probably no better or worst than in a lot of places. Nevertheless, the police are poorly paid and minor graft in the form of bribes, known as mordidas (bites), are considered a perk of the job. For a traveler being shook down for the first time this is often difficult to accept. Yet as system, in its own way, it more-or-less works. It might help to think of these bribes as informal fines and a convenient way to avoid further entanglement.

In general, it is prudent to be extremely polite and non-confrontational with the police. If a policeman accuses you of some violation explain that you are a tourist and ignorant of the ways of the country. If the subject of a fine comes up it is best to pay it. The amount to pay is a bit more tricky. It is negotiable (say Mex$50-150), but the amount depends on the seriousness of the violation you are being accused of. Only try to negotiate if your Spanish is good enough and you are sure you have done nothing seriously wrong. Otherwise pay the amount being asked and be gone.

A propina (tip) is similar to a mordida. Offering a propina in México is common and helpful in motivating the bureaucracy and other gatekeepers of Méxican society to expedite a task. A propina is not required to get something accomplished and its offer is entirely of your own initiative. It is impressive though how fast a seemingly daunting task can be turned around on a dime by offering a tip.

Be cautious if approached by someone identifying themselves as a police offices. If there is any question in your mind as to whether this person is a police officer ask to see their badge and take their name, badge number, and patrol car number if they are driving one.

Should you be arrested your first call should be to your nearest embassy or consulate. Most will at a minimum arrange an English-speaking attorney for you. You can be held for up to 72 hours before charges have to be brought.

If you are a victim of a crime obviously your interaction with the police will be different than if you are accused of a crime. Still consider whether reporting the crime is worth the substantial hassle inherent in dealing with the police. This is especially true of robbery, since the chances of recovering your valuables are nil. Unfortunately most insurance companies will insist on an official police report before they'll reimburse you for your loss. So if you have travel insurance or some other policy that will reimburse you for theft while traveling and you want to be reimbursed you'll need to file a police report.

Many cities with substantial visitors maintain a special tourist police force. If available this should be your first contact if you do decide to report a crime. At a minimum you may be able to get them to write up an official police report for insurance purposes and avoid the hassle of the dealing with the municipal police.

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