One of our readers wrote me this week to tell me that she was “terrified” to see heavily-armed police officers and soldiers manning numerous police checkpoints between the Cancun airport and her hotel.
She said that their presence made her “feel like she was in a very unsafe area” and she even debated returning home early.
Fortunately, her fear went away after a few Margaritas at the resort and she decided to ride it out. She said that she had a great vacation but she just couldn’t get used to seeing police officers with “machine guns” in the tourist areas.
It’s Just a Different Style of Policing
Whenever people visit another country, most folks know — or at least should — that we will undoubtedly encounter some cultural differences.
Those cultural differences are not limited to food and language. They permeate every nook and cranny of society, including police tactics and enforcement strategies.
Mexico has always opted for a shock-and-awe style of policing. They set up numerous permanent and mobile police checkpoints and man them with heavily armed police officers, and in some areas, military personnel.
This style of policing is common through much of Latin America; however, if you’re visiting from the U.S. or Canada where the cops look more like the ones below, it’s understandable that you might mistakenly believe that the presence of heavily armed officers means that you’re in a dangerous area.
A Quick Story to Illustrate my Point
A few months ago, Linda and I took an overnight trip to one of our favorite Mexican colonial cities, Valladolid.
As usual, I woke up a few hours before Linda, so I decided to walk around the main plaza and get a coffee. When I walked out of the hotel, I was surprised to see a large number of police officers and soldiers gathering in the plaza as the sun was coming up.
Many of the officers were wearing Kevlar helmets and some were standing in the back of marked pick-up trucks with their weapons at the ready (shown below).
Now, if I had stumbled across this scene in the United States, I would assume that something had gone very wrong or that one of my neighbors was about to have a search warrant served at their residence.
But, this was Mexico, and I knew from experience that the mere presence of heavily-armed officers didn’t necessarily mean that anything was wrong.
So, I walked closer to investigate and started taking photos and video.
No one seemed bothered by the fact that I was taking pictures and a few even greeted me with a friendly “Buenos días.”
As I walked by a high ranking police official, I stopped and politely asked him what was going on. He smiled and said that they were kicking off the busy tourist season (Holy Week) with a show of force to “make the tourists and residents feel safe.”
His answer took me by surprise and made me chuckle out loud before I could stop myself.
In my head I thought, “Yep, because nothing says you’re safe in this area more than a cop in a ski mask holding an automatic rifle on top of a police vehicle.”
Let’s Wrap This Up
I’m certainly not suggesting that Mexico doesn’t have dangerous areas that necessitate the presence of these folks — it most certainly does — however, their presence does not necessarily mean that you’re in one of those areas.
These police tactics are employed throughout the country, even in areas with lower crime rates.
Case in point. I took these pictures in Valladolid, a city that is considered quite safe and has a low crime rate according to statistical data provided be Semáforo Delictivo.
So, stay calm, have a Margarita and enjoy your vacation!