Mérida, Yucatán — In one of Mexico’s safest cities, residents want to keep it that way.
Neighborhood crime-watch committees have grown in number. To date, the Sipse media group counts 2,300 such groups, up from 500 a year ago. Together the groups have 11,500 members guarding their streets against drugs and vandalism.
Sipse calls them “vigilantes,” but that word is misleading.
“We’re not a group of confrontation or aggression,” said one member who identified himself only as “Rafael.” His group’s aim is to deter and report crime rather than try to directly combat it themselves, he told Sipse.
Every night he and a group of his neighbors put on matching white t-shirts, monitoring their zone with flashlights and whistles. They have a direct line to the local police commander.
“The government tells us, ‘if you see something bad, let us know and we’ll deal with it,’ ” Rafael said.
In Mayapán, another newly formed neighborhood-watch group, patrols the sidewalks, using WhatsApp on their smart phones the way a police officer might use a walkie-talkie. So far it has managed to scare off drug dealers, the group’s leader said.
“There was a lot of vandalism, drugs were sold on that corner,” María Cua said. “Instead, seeing that there is more vigilance and that we have our [own] police group, they have decided to respect us as residents and to respect our streets.”
In the first nine months of 2017 there were 19 intentional homicides in Mérida, which is low for a city of nearly a million inhabitants. Almost three-quarters of the state’s residents have a positive perception of the state’s police, almost 20 points higher than the national average.
National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia said during a recent visit that its citizen patrols set a good example for the country.