Three police motorcycles close Abelardo Rodríguez Street in the Vicente Villada de Nezahualcóyotl neighborhood, in the State of Mexico. It is 12:45, on the unflattened cement facade of a two-story house there is a ladder placed next to a dry tree, a policeman watches from the street, looks towards the cornice of the house, where the ladder is perched and, from background, a chainsaw is heard.
Two officers look out from the rooftop and throw freshly cut branches into the void that fall piled up on the side of the road. The police thus respond to the call of a neighbor, who asked that they cut down the dry tree in front of his house for fear that the fireworks of the next Christmas would set it on fire. Neighborhood patrols, in this city, don’t just go after crime.
In 2013, homicides in Mexico were 19.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. However, in those days Nezahualcóyotl, a municipality in the State of Mexico that borders Mexico City, Texcoco, La Paz and Chimalhuacán, reached 22.
But the situation has changed, and while the Federation registered in 2019, for the second year consecutive, a figure of 29 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, in this municipality the number of deaths has plummeted to 12.7. A 57.7% drop.
According to a report by México Evalúa, an independent organization, the answer could be found in the security model applied by the municipal government, based on proximity and the creation of neighborhood networks that report and contact the police directly.
Faced with the federal policy of militarization of security, in this population a hyperlocal model has been chosen based on proximity to its 1.2 million inhabitants. The model could be summarized in that, being in direct 24-hour contact with the agents, what the neighbors see, is a direct extension of the police surveillance.
While the tree on Abelardo Rodríguez Street staggers and finally lands on the ground, Officer Juan Vidales, from the neighborhood networks subdirectorate, explains that the functions of the police are not limited to emergencies.
“We do not put aside interventions such as cutting a tree or doing a cleaning day in a street, that is the link of the proximity police,” he says. And he adds: “Fostering this type of action helps us to be in contact with the public and thus reduce crime rates.”
A spokesperson for the City Council explains how the model works: The municipality was divided into 100 quadrants, covering between 10 and 15 streets, each with its own neighborhood network. For each quadrant there are 6 agents, always the same ones, who maintain contact with each of their networks via WhatsApp.
They are reported from crimes to deficiencies such as lack of lighting, potholes or sidewalks in poor condition. In total, in Nezahualcóyotl there are 10,500 neighborhood networks, one per street, and 600 agents dedicated exclusively to them.
With the tree already splintered, a police siren begins to sound and officers knock on every house door to door. Meanwhile, a recording launches a call that runs throughout the block, it is time for the assembly between neighbors and police. Little by little the neighbors come out and lean against a wall, opposite the agents.
One of them reviews how to protect homes from theft: “If we see that there is advertising on the doors and we know that the neighbor is not there, our obligation is to remove it so that thieves cannot sign any house to rob,” he explains the agent to the neighbors.
A crime that has grown is the theft of homes without violence, specifically 254% between 2011 and 2019, according to the report by México Evalúa. After the talk, the neighbors start talking,
The neighbor in question is Rosa Aguíñiga, 66 years old. “Networks take care of positive things and are very beneficial. The police made a WhatsApp group in which we are several neighbors, they do come when called ”. Both Aguíñiga and his neighbor, Berta Martínez, affirm that a greater disposition is noticeable, and they hope that it is not due to the electoral process of 2021.
“We want to believe that it is nothing more for the elections that are coming, this has to be permanent ”Says Martínez. Aguíñiga says that although more cameras are needed, the neighbors are now more attentive: “We live face to face, they take care of us and we are also aware of it.”
After each assembly, neighbors and authorities seal the meeting with a joint photo, so that the meeting and the matters discussed are recorded.
Despite the improvement, violence and crime persist. Jorge Amador, the mayor’s director of citizen security, attributes it to the high population and economic volume of the municipality. “We have 50,000 businesses.
This activity of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs means that the availability of cash is greater than in the surroundings ”, explains Amador.
At the same time, the director points out that when the town was established, 57 years ago, few people had a car, so there is a significant absence of garages and vehicle theft is one of the most common crimes. However, this has fallen by 73%, according to data from the Insured Risks Communicating Office and the report from México Evalúa.
The decline is also evident since 2013, when neighborhood networks began to be created.
Juan Hugo de la Rosa is the mayor of the municipality, and to the economic density, he adds the number of inhabitants to explain the high number of crimes. Neza has an area of 64 square kilometers, the same as Villamanta, a town in the Community of Madrid.
However, Villamanta has 2,500 residents in the last census of 2017, and 1.2 million people live in Neza, 17,536 inhabitants per square kilometer, although De la Rosa says that according to “unofficial” data that figure reaches 23,500.
Given such a size, the mayor affirms that neighborhood networks have been fundamental for security: “It is precisely the community that knows and experiences the problems, they must provide solutions,” says the municipal councilor.
Since 2016, public perception of insecurity has fallen from 84.1% to 70.8% in September 2020. For Amador, the current figure remains “high”, but he clings to the downward trend to affirm that the results of the proximity security model are having an effect.
At the same time, the percentage of Nezahualcotlenses who trust their municipal police increased from 51% in 2016 to 68% in 2019, according to México Evalúa.