Assassinations of local officials in Mexico on the rise, according to Baker Institute paper

Assassinations of local officials in Mexico have increased substantially since 2004, and these attacks constitute a major threat to the consolidation of the rule of law in the country, according to a new paper from the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Credit: 123RF.com/Rice University

“Mayoral Homicide in Mexico: A Situational Analysis on the Victims, Perpetrators and Locations of Attacks” was co-authored by David Pérez Esparza, a visiting fellow at the Mexico Center in 2017 and Ph.D. candidate at University College London, and Helden De Paz Mancera, security project manager at Mexican consulting firm Grupo Atalaya.

The paper seeks to identify the key factors that explain why local officials in Mexico — specifically mayors, former mayors, mayors-elect and mayoral candidates — are being killed and to provide policy alternatives to tackle this threat to Mexican democracy, particularly in the context of the country’s 2018 electoral process. The paper uses the routine activity theory’s crime triangle methodology to examine the targeted officials, the attackers and where the attacks have occurred.

“Security practitioners must be aware that the attacks against local public officials in Mexico are a complex phenomena with multiple causes and explanations,” the authors wrote. “Response and prevention strategies must therefore discern between two different main triggers for these cases: organized crime and political violence (which we defined as conflict between local interest groups and authorities in which at least one is willing to use force against the other, effectively signaling that the state does not possess a monopoly on the use of force).”

Since official records on the subject are nonexistent, the authors used open-source intelligence techniques to create a database that includes all attacks against local officials in Mexico from July 8, 2004 through March 1, 2018, when the researchers ended their data-gathering process. The paper presents 178 documented deadly attacks against local officials.

The first course of action is to improve the data collection process, the authors said. “In the case of the target (i.e., mayors), it will be interesting to explore how long mayors were in office before being attacked, or how soon they suffered an attack after leaving office,” the authors wrote. “Second, in the case of the offender, four new areas can be considered. First, there can be analysis of whether a judicial investigation was launched to prosecute offenders for attacks, and which agency oversaw it (if any). This is relevant since on several occasions, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office was responsible for the judicial investigation (rather than the local justice department). Hence, it is not clear under what circumstances Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office intervenes in the prosecution process; protocols should thus be established to professionalize the investigations and to reduce possible biases.

“Third, there needs to be exploration of whether homicides took place before or after the most violent days in the municipality,” the authors wrote. “This would, for example, help to determine whether mayoral homicides are independent from (or related to) overall increased violence within a municipality. Fourth, there should be analysis of possible correlations between mayoral homicides and the capture of drug kingpins or an election, as this phenomena also could be temporally and spatially associated.”

Given the election taking place in July, the second course of action is to focus on prediction and prevention, the authors said. “Special attention is required regarding municipalities where repeat victimizations have already occurred,” they wrote. “This is key, as crime science literature suggests that it is very likely that another murder or murders will occur in the short run, especially in places where this type of violence has already occurred.”

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.