MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Masked police officers pointed semi-automatic rifles from a helicopter that flew low over Mexico City last week as security forces employ unprecedented heavy-handed tactics to combat a rise in levels of drug violence rarely seen in the capital.
In a sight more familiar to Mexico’s most dangerous border cities, goggled and masked officers hung from open doors, surveying the streets, their weapons trained on the ground 250 meters below.
When homicides, kidnapping and extortion soared across the country over the past decade as cartels battled security forces, Mexico City kept a lid on the worst crime and prospered, earning fame as a trendy getaway for foreign tourists.
For several years, murders in the capital actually declined. Now though, killings are at a record – up 45 percent since 2014. The city is on track for another record this year.
Police say much of the crimes stem from retail drug dealing from violent local gangs.
President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vowed to bring peace to the country during his six year term and on Tuesday launched consultations with victims about a possible amnesty law for low-level crimes.
Starting in July, a new police chief of Mexico City, Raymundo Collins, dispatched a fleet of ten helicopters to criss-cross the city every day, moving low and slow across high-crime neighborhoods for surveillance and in an attempt to intimidate criminals.
The strategy of high-profile policing may not last beyond December but it is a startling reminder to residents of the creeping drug violence in a sprawling city that would rather be known as one of Latin America’s top spots for art, culture and business.
Mr Collins’ office says police had doubled the average daily arrests of drug dealers in his first couple of weeks on the job.
However, critics say helicopters may help some feel safe, but were unlikely to lower crime in the medium-term.
The city’s next mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, said she doubted Mr Collins’ methods and vowed to replace him when she takes office in four months.