The Boundaries of International Cooperation: Problems and Prospects of U.S.-Mexican Policing

Mathieu Deflem

This is an electronic version of a chapter published in Police Corruption: Challenges for Developed Countries - Comparative Issues and Commissions of Inquiry, edited by Menachem Amir and Stanley Einstein, pp. 93-122. Huntsville, TX: Office on International Criminal Justice, 2004. Also available in print-friendly pdf format.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2004. "The Boundaries of International Cooperation: Problems and Prospects of U.S.-Mexican Policing." Pp. 93-122 in Police Corruption: Challenges for Developed Countries - Comparative Issues and Commissions of Inquiry, edited by Menachem Amir and Stanley Einstein. Huntsville, TX: Office on International Criminal Justice.

* A previous version was presented at a conference on "International Institutions: Global Processes—Domestic Consequences" in April 1999 at Duke University. I am grateful to the editors of this volume for their helpful comments.

Tables and figures are available in the pdf version.

Abstract: Contemporary developments of international law enforcement strategies between the United States and Mexico are discussed. Emphasis is on the criminal law enforcement duties surrounding U.S.-Mexico border control, cross-border implications of the war on drugs, and the relevance thereof for issues of police professionalism and corruption. Employing a theoretical model rooted in the sociology of globalization and bureaucracy, it is argued that efficiency standards shape these international efforts of policing, often irrespective of legality and justice. Furthermore, research indicates that a relationship of dependency and inequality marks the U.S.-Mexican police partnership. Implications of these findings are discussed with respect to issues of corruption and in relation to the continued efforts on the part of U.S. law enforcement to forge and control a global hegemony of policing. Whereas the traditional policing-corruption focus is within a local or national range, this article moves the center of attention to the international arena. Unresolved critical issues and future needed research are also noted.

Key Words: international police cooperation, U.S.-Mexican police relations, Americanization of law enforcement, police corruption, bureaucratization, globalization, war on drugs


In recent years, social science research has devoted increasing attention to patterns of crime and law enforcement transcending the borders of nations (e.g., Deflem 1997, 2000; Deflem and Swygart 2001; Deflem and Henry-Turner 2001; Nadelmann 1993; Sheptycki 1996, 1998). This growing body of scholarship has done much to advance our understanding of various aspects of the historical and contemporary dimensions of international police structures and processes. But there still remains an important task for scholars to uncover the many dimensions and forms of international policing and to construct appropriate models that can account for these phenomena. As the world is increasingly subject to globalization in many domains of society, inquiries on international aspects of law enforcement are significant in contributing to unravel the consequences of these forms of policing with respect to a traditional understanding of legality rooted in the notion of jurisdiction. Clearly, as the world gains in interdependence and complexity, such conceptions will in the future be increasingly questioned.

I will offer a theoretically informed sociological model of international policing that I will put to the test in the case of aspects of U.S.-Mexican policing. Applying analytical models of international police to selected cases has the advantage of offering materials that may lead towards the uncovering of more fundamental and universal mechanisms across specific times and places. Under conditions of globalization, policing is likely to be more complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional and non-linear than its traditional forms have been. In that case, critical issues related to control, predictability, and assessment can no longer be adequately grasped in our traditional paradigms (Martin and Beittel 1998). With respect to police corruption, specifically, the focus has traditionally been on the police institution’s or officer’s accountability vis-a-vis the citizens or inhabitants of the particular jurisdiction over which the police has authority (Deflem 1995). But in the case of international policing, the basis of accountability is less clear, which in itself may affect opportunities for corruption and other forms of illegitimate police conduct.

Focusing on central dimensions of contemporary U.S.-Mexican police relations, I specify a sociological model of the internationalization of social control that relates international policing to a two-fold development of globalization and bureaucracy. I will argue, in relation to globalization, that international police duties are mostly conceived as explicit components of the national function of police to enforce the ‘laws of the land.’ This dominance of national concerns places police from Mexico in a secondary and dependent role relative to U.S. law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, I maintain that international police practices are driven by organizational developments related to a process of bureaucratization.

The empirical focus of my research is on selected efforts from U.S. federal law enforcement agencies that involve cooperation with Mexican police or transnational work with implications for Mexico. My analysis relies extensively on primary data collected from a variety of sources, including internet websites from various police agencies (see References and Website Sources), congressional testimonies by police and government officials, and newspaper sources that were retrieved through the computerized database of Lexis-Nexis (see Lexis-Nexis website).

I will argue that nationally determined international police work will remain a steady factor in the future. This pertains particularly to the ‘Americanization’ of, and U.S. dominance in, police relations with Mexico. Furthermore, the potential for police to emphasize crime control without sufficient regard for issues of justice I consider a consequence of the fact that police agencies operate independently from political and legal supervision. From the viewpoint of the United States, it is important that what is practiced abroad may also have intra-national implications. The direction of these domestic implications, however, is uncertain for it could lead to strengthen law enforcement in the United States at the expense of constitutional safeguards, or further polarize the differences between domestic policing and law enforcement abroad. This paper offers materials that may contribute to answer these questions.


The sociological study of police practices across the boundaries of national jurisdictions raises at least two critical questions.

First, how does the globalization of the police function relate to national police tasks?
Second, what are the causal and contextual determinants of international policing?
Briefly stated, my theoretical model holds that national interests and dynamics in the bureaucratic development of police agencies shape the internationalization of the police function. The primacy of national interests in international police work relates to the fact that police institutions are representative of the state monopoly of force. The bureaucratization of policing is shaped by evolutions in the professionalization of police in terms of means and objectives.

The Nationality of International Police

Among the conceptual concerns in the globalization literature relevant for the present examination are the following two questions:

First of all, the relationship between international and national developments is theoretically complex, entailing the question whether internationalization and nationalization are opposing trends that involve conflict (Ruggie 1993) or whether they complement one another in more or less harmonious fashion (Amin 1997).

Second, globalization is a very broad concept covering a variety of processes, often associated with controversial normative implications (Kettner 1997).

These two themes are also central to research on the globalization of police, which has addressed issues of sovereignty (Fijnaut 1993; Fijnaut and Marx 1995) and has particularly centered on the international mechanisms of police as they affect, and/or are influenced by, national police developments (e.g., Herbert 1999; Röhl and Magen 1996; Zagaris 1996a,b).
In relation to these theoretical insights, I conceive of globalization as referring to structures and processes of empirical interdependence between geographically dispersed social units, especially national states and their institutions, that can have different kinds of implications depending on socio-historical conditions. I will defend the viewpoint that international policing efforts are typically maintained as collaborative networks between national police systems, each of which independently also engage in unilaterally instigated international activities. These internal and external dimensions, I argue, exist side by side as two related manifestations of the state-controlled monopoly of force. Therefore, international police activities typically do not conflict with national tasks, because international work is conceived as one dimension of the primary function of police in the state’s internal means of coercion.
Bureaucratization and International Policing

Relying on the sociology of Max Weber (1922), I conceive of public police agencies as bureaucracies that are sanctioned by states with the task of order maintenance and crime control. Bureaucracies, I argue with Weber, have a tendency towards independence from their political centers on the basis of acquired knowledge and expertise (Deflem 2000). Such institutional independence police institutions can particularly achieve because and when they rely on a purposive-rational model to employ the technically most efficient means given certain goals (professional expertise) and, additionally, develop specialized systems of knowledge (official information) about certain crimes, which can be presented as particularly threatening to public safety (e.g., the war on drugs as a response to the devastation caused by drug addiction, or border control in response to a massive influx of aliens). While police institutions are by necessity always an agency of power related to state control, the behavior of police, within and across nations, is not wholly determined by the ideological dictates of their governments. Arguing against political or state-centered perspectives that view police and police as extensions of government power (e.g., Busch 1995; Huggins 1998), my theoretical model instead suggests that international police practices cannot be explained in terms of political (nor economic) conditions, but are influenced by organizational developments related to a process of bureaucratization.

Relying on the fact that bureaucracies can define their own field of operations, international police work is typically justified on the basis of the definitional powers of police to bring out the centrality of international crimes, such as illegal migration, smuggling and other border disputes, and the international trade in illegal drugs. Police agencies can authoritatively define these international crime problems because of specialized knowledge about and expertise to control international criminal activities. Also, because international police activities are often motivated by a very strong concern for efficiency in crime control, they can fall short in terms of requirements of due process. In the context of U.S.-Mexican policing, this process particularly involves heightened pressures on U.S. police agencies to ‘get the job done’ no matter the normative and legal concerns, and it confronts Mexican police agencies with the opportunities in their country to participate in, or at least condone, the drug world in a more or less active sense.


Obviously, this paper cannot analyze all agencies, practices, and problems involved with U.S.-Mexican policing. While necessarily selective, however, I will focus on those dimensions that have recently been most significant in the context of U.S.-Mexican policing and that have even managed to influence the political relationships between the two countries. The emphasis is therefore on aspects of U.S.-Mexico border control and the enforcement of drug violations and related crimes over the past decade.

The Players: U.S. and Mexican Federal Law Enforcement

It may be useful to say a few words about the main agencies involved with U.S.-Mexican police activities. Because law enforcement in both the United States and Mexico is the responsibility of federal as well as local (state and municipal) levels of government, there are a huge number of police agencies involved with border control and other international police tasks. The most crucial agencies involved are certain federal police and administrative institutions (Table 1).

In the United States, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) takes in an important administrative position to guide and control much of the international activities U.S. law enforcement agencies are engaged in. The ONDCP is set up within the U.S. Presidency to organize policies, priorities, and objectives for national drug control programs. The ONDCP establishes the National Drug Control Strategy to direct U.S. anti-drug efforts and establishes a program, a budget, and guidelines for cooperation among federal, state, and local agencies. The Director of ONDCP, the so-called ‘drug czar’ (until recently Barry McCaffrey), also evaluates and oversees the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies. Also, unlike the authorities of many other countries, the ONDCP collaborates with the United Nations Drug Control Program under the leadership of Pino Arlacchi.

Among the most important federal U.S. law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the U.S. Department of Justice has various international tasks, among them the organization of international police training programs, the implementation of police work abroad (through a system of legal attaches), and the enforcement of federal crimes that are of an inherently international crimes (drug trafficking, terrorism). The FBI cooperates with foreign police in criminal investigations with an international character and can (as can other U.S. federal agencies) assist with, though not actually participate in, arrests on foreign soil.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the primary U.S. agency for drug enforcement. The DEA enforces drug laws at home, at the U.S. border and abroad, and is typically responsible for representing the United States in international organizations involved with drug control. The DEA’s Office of International Operations centralizes all international work. The DEA has a foreign liaisons system even more extensive than the FBI’s.

In Mexico, the Federal Judicial Police is the national law enforcement agency which is primarily involved in international police work (Deflem 2001). The Federal Judicial Police enforces federal crimes, such as the drug trade, and it has liaison officers posted with Mexican consulates. During the 1990s, most outstanding about the force has been its extreme instability, in part because of political upheavals, in part because of corruption among police and their involvement in the drug trade, which this article later will discuss. These problematic conditions have brought about massive layoffs and new professionalism initiatives, including new training programs. Specialized anti-drug units have also been created in Mexico (Deflem 2001; Zagaris 1996b). With the changing pattern of drug trafficking since the late 1980’s (primarily a shift from Columbia to Mexico as the main importer of drugs into the United States), the Northern Border Response Force was set up in the Mexican Federal Judicial Police in 1980. In 1993, a National Institute to Combat Drugs was established by the Mexican government. However, in 1997 then Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo found himself forced to abolish the Institute and replace it by a new office, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Health, in an effort to show Mexico’s concern to curb the production and flow of drugs (see below).

The Strategies: Border Control and Drug Enforcement

A Selective History

Throughout this paper, it will be come clear that an analysis of U.S.-Mexican police relationships cannot but start from a discussion of the police dimensions from the United States viewpoint, with the consequence that Mexican involvement should be treated secondarily. This situation of Mexican dependency on U.S. law enforcement evidently harmonizes with political relations, but also has a relatively independent police component with a long history (Deflem 1997, 2001; Nadelmann 1993). Historically, the difficult and at times hostile relations between the United States and Mexico meant that police cooperation governmental treaties between the two countries were never easily achieved. Yet there have always been exceptions, especially when specific needs could be identified in which both Mexico and the United States had a stake (e.g., the smuggling of alcohol). Generally, border control emerges as a key concern in U.S.-Mexican police relationships and, more particularly, relates to the control of smuggling, migration, and the drug trade. In most all these case, relationships between the U.S. and Mexico are asymmetrical as the relatively poor South is confronted with the relatively wealthy North.

With the expanding frontier, of primary concern for U.S. law enforcement were the protection of the United States’ shifting borders with the neighboring states, especially Mexico (Nadelmann 1993). As early as 1845, following America’s annexation of Texas, agents from the U.S. Customs Service were sent to the territory to detect smugglers. Thereafter, a more organized group of customs agents, so-called "mounted inspectors," were employed along the border. They were later replaced by agents from the U.S. Immigration Service and, after 1924, a special Immigration Border Patrol. Dependent on the political conditions within Mexico and hampered by the country’s various periods of turmoil, police collaboration and bilateral treaties between the USA and Mexico were never easily achieved. In 1882, a bilateral treaty was signed which allowed troops of both states to pursue fugitive bands of "savage Indians." Border controls were also conducted in reaction to smuggling activities. The U.S. Customs Service was created in 1789 in the Treasury department to specifically target smuggling, through cooperation with foreign governments and by stationing its own agents abroad (Deflem 2001).

The Current Context

Developments in recent decades have altered the border situation from a law enforcement viewpoint, though present activities build on prior practices. On the one hand, there is a continuation of practices in matters of smuggling and immigration, whereby the latter matter has increased in significance. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is mainly responsible for administering and enforcing the nation’s laws on immigration. Among the INS enforcement agencies are Investigations and Inspections and Border Patrol. Investigations and Inspection are primarily responsible for matters of criminal and illegal aliens, unauthorized labor, and smuggling. U.S. Border Patrol has similar enforcement duties but is more specifically oriented at police tasks close to the borders with Canada and Mexico.

U.S. Military forces have also joined in the enforcement of border and anti-drug crimes. All branches of the United States military are involved, as anti-drug units are formed in the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force. Joint task forces are also set up, for instance, for anti-drug operations along the U.S.-Mexican border (Defenselink website). The deployment of military units in the United States has thereby brought about a redefinition of border control as a military national security issue, rather than a civilian concern (Dunn 1996). In Mexico, a military involvement in law enforcement has also occurred, but for different reasons. There, the military was held to be less corruptible than civilian law enforcement. The results of this strategy, however, have been less than clear, as I will discuss later in this paper.

Besides smuggling and migration, the American war on drugs has been by far the most significant factor shaping U.S.-Mexican police relationships. It evidently propelled the activities of DEA and FBI in their partnership with Mexican law enforcement (which I will center on in the remainder of this paper), but it is to be noted that it also influenced the work of many other U.S. police agencies. For example, the U.S. Customs Service in Southern California stepped up law enforcement efforts against the flow of drugs from Mexico to the United States. The U.S. Marshals Service is affected because among its duties are the enforcement of terrorism and drug trafficking. The U.S. Coast Guard is also involved in the fight against drugs, specifically the flow of drugs over seas and waters under U.S. jurisdiction.

The Practices: The Centrality of the U.S.-Mexico Border

The present practices of U.S.-Mexican police issues provide for an extremely intricate web of plans and policies, agencies and strategies, that defies simple classification. I will attempt to provide a comprehensive picture of the most central aspects of law enforcement between the U.S. and Mexico starting from the viewpoint of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, discussing other initiatives secondarily to the coordinating policies of the Office. The ONDCP, indeed, centralizes the various components of the U.S. drug policy, specifically in the form of its National Drug Control Strategy, an annual report of ongoing and newly instituted anti-drug policy and police efforts.

International Dimensions of the National Drug Control Strategy

The recent editions of the National Drug Control Strategy, published annually from 1998 to 2001, provide ample evidence for the centrality of the U.S.-Mexico border to police matters (ONDCP website). Whereas drugs were once primarily imported from the Far East, the shift to cocaine has brought about a refocusing of attention to South America and, more specifically, to Mexico, at least since the shift of cocaine production and distribution with the relative disintegration of the illegal drug market in Columbia. Though Columbia is still a focus of concern for the ONDCP in its strategy to curb the flow of drugs, it is clear that the once looser approach to Mexico’s involvement has during the 1990s been abandoned (Deflem 2001).

The ONDCP specifies among its goals, next to policies aimed at reduction of drug use within U.S. borders, the shielding of America’s frontiers and the breaking of foreign and domestic drug sources of supply. The 1999 National Drug Control Strategy details three concrete policy efforts with international implications.

The shielding of the U.S. borders is central to American drug policy because most illegal drugs are not produced in the United States. The borders (and ports of entry) are targeted by a large number of agencies, including DEA, FBI, the Coast Guard, and the Armed Forces, as well as certain private sector groups such as the Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition. In total, 23 federal agencies and scores of state and local governments are involved with border controls. To coordinate these activities, the Justice and Treasury departments established the Border Coordination Initiative (BCI) for the region of the Southwest Border (see Map 1).

The Border Coordination Initiative was developed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service for increased cooperation on the Southwest Border to enhance the interdiction of drugs, illegal aliens, and contraband. The Southwest Border is the 2,000 mile-long border between the United States and Mexico and is considered of primary importance in the flow of drugs into the United States. Drug reduction efforts in the initiative are targeted at the supply of drugs, including programs oriented at interdiction operations —which attempt to control the flow of drugs by air, sea, and over land— and the destruction of production sites. Table 2 provides an overview of the many strategies that are set up as part of the Border Coordination Initiative.

Anti-Drug Agreements by the Organization of American States

The international drug control cooperation efforts overseen by the ONDCP involve a comprehensive approach to target "illegal drug cultivation, production, trafficking, abuse, diversion of precursor chemicals, and the corrosive effects of the illegal drug trade, including corruption, violence, environmental degradation, undermining of democratic institutions, and economic distortion" (ONDCP website). U.S. policies are tied in with multilateral initiatives, such as those taken by the United Nations General Assembly and, more important still, a series of anti-drug efforts agreed upon by the countries of the American continent. For instance, the Organization of American States increased multilateral cooperation after the First Summit of the Americas, held in Miami in 1994. They later endorsed the 1995 Buenos Aires "Communiqué on Money Laundering" and the "1996 Hemispheric Anti-Drug Strategy." Such international agreements to coordinate the fight against drugs on the American Continent have continued in the late 1990s. At the Second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile in April of 1998, 34 Presidents, including then U.S. President Bill Clinton, agreed to create a new "Hemispheric Alliance Against Drugs" (see Organization of American States websites; ONDCP website).

Little concrete information is available about the actual implications of these international treaties in terms of their effectiveness in anti-drug operations, but their objectives provide for a specification of principles to enhance and ease international cooperation in the fight against drugs. Given the emphasis in the international agreements on anti-drug objectives without much detailed information on projected and achieved effectiveness, the latest Alliance also specified a ‘Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism,’ which functions as a system of performance measurement in order to monitor the progress of national and international efforts in the Hemisphere. The results of this initiative will be discussed at the Third Summit of the Americas will be held in April 2001 in Quebec City, Canada.

U.S.-Mexican Bilateral Cooperation

Because of the shifts in the illegal drug trade from Columbia to Mexico since the early 1990s, the bilateral anti-drug efforts between the United States and Mexico agreed upon at a series of conferences have acquired special significance within the broader initiatives of American states. In fact, the bilateral agreements between Mexico and the United States in the fight against drugs have become a top priority for the governments of both countries (see Table 3). Most critical among the many efforts in this bilateral relationship, the United States and Mexico in 1998 finalized a comprehensive U.S.-Mexico Binational Drug Strategy, which builds on the "United States-Mexico Binational Drug Threat Assessment" and the "Declaration of U.S.-Mexico Alliance Against Drugs" signed by Presidents Clinton and Zedillo in May 1997 on the occasion of Clinton’s visit to Mexico. The Binational Drug Strategy involves, amongst other things, commitments to focus police efforts against organized criminal organizations, to negotiate conditions of extradition, to provide for training, to enhance border control, and to exchange information between Mexico and the U.S.

The first conference held in 1998, in El Paso, Texas, and attended by 350 participants, resulted in proceedings and recommendations for future efforts to strengthen drug demand reduction in both countries. That same year, the United States/Mexico Bi-National Drug Strategy was developed under the leadership of the US/Mexico High Level Contact Group.
Alliance Point One of the Strategy, to Reduce the demand for illicit drugs through the intensification of anti-drug information and educational efforts, particularly those directed at young people, and through rehabilitative programs, became a blueprint for actions needed to implement the partnerships forged. In addition, both governments identified measures (Performance Measures of Effectiveness - or PMEs) by which to evaluate the effectiveness of those actions.

At the second conference held in 1999, in Tijuana, Mexico, and attended by 350 participants, conferees reviewed the PMEs for Alliance Point One (including results obtained from bi-national demand reduction activities, meetings, and border demand reduction initiatives), identifying progress made and new actions needed. Both governments worked together to integrate recommendations obtained into the Alliance Point One PMEs. Both countries signed a joint declaration in 1999.

A third Bi-National Drug Demand Reduction Conference was held on May 31- June 2, 2000 in Phoenix, Arizona. Four hundred and twenty people attended this event which continued to feature professional development skills seminars, a bi-national research symposium linking the public health and public safety, extensive training on treatment methods, prevention strategies, youth coalitions, and dissemination of materials. The conference strengthened a sustainable mechanisms for future bi-national collaboration.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program
The centrality of the US.-Mexico border is further accentuated when we look at the so-called ‘High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas’ (HIDTA). These Areas have been designated by the Director of the ONDCP pursuant the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 to improve law enforcement coordination against drugs. HIDTAs are regions that are held to face particularly critical drug trafficking problems and need special strategies of law enforcement. HIDTA designation allows for the temporary reassignment of federal personnel. Each Area has an executive committee consisting of representatives from local/state and federal law enforcement agencies. By 1999, 28 HIDTA regions were established across the United States, each comprised of specific designated counties based on the drug threat in that area (see Table 4).

At the federal level, the HIDTA Coordination Committee centralizes policy recommendations to the Areas, while a HIDTA Assistance Center in Miami, Florida, is in charge of training, logistic, and financial support. During fiscal year 1998, the Center was responsible for providing more than 200 training programs to over 5,000 federal, state and local agents and officers. Resources provided to the HIDTA Program have grown from $25 million in fiscal year 1990 to nearly $192 million in 2000. In 2000, the HIDTA program coordinated the efforts of no less than 949 local, 172 state, and 35 federal law enforcement agencies as well as 86 other organizations, covering 292 counties in 40 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (ONDCP website). Next to federal U.S. police agencies from the departments of the Treasury (e.g., Customs Service), Justice (e.g., FBI, DEA), and Transportation (e.g., Coast Guard), the departments of State and Defense are also involved in the HIDTAs. The Department of State has a policy-oriented role in fostering cooperation with Mexico, while the Department of Defense has a leading role in the detection and monitoring of the aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs.

From its inception in 1990, one HIDTA that clearly stood out among all others has been the Southwest Border HIDTA, the only Area that is not localized in one city but covers the entire U.S.-Mexican border. Of all HIDTA’s, the Southwest Border is clearly the most expensive to maintain, with a budget of nearly 25% ($46 million) of the total budget for all HIDTA programs. The Southwest Border HIDTA consists of five partnerships —the California Border Alliance Group, the Arizona Alliance Planning Committee, the New Mexico Partnership, the West Texas Partnership, and the South Texas partnership, all together covering 41 counties and five federal judicial districts in the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The Southwest Border HIDTA provides for:

an operational intelligence center for the collection and dissemination of information on drug trafficking organizations;
organization of a Southwest Border Unit for intelligence support; and
establishment of the Southwest Border HIDTA Management and Coordination in order to harmonize the activities of all participating agencies.
The complexity of the five partnerships of the Southwest Border cannot be underestimated. The California Border Alliance Group, for instance, had in operation some sixteen different law enforcement strategies in the year 1998, including a Customs Intelligence Group, a Marine Task Force, and a San Diego Violent Crime Task Force. Participating in the California group are some seventeen local police departments from various municipalities, five state agencies, and 14 federal police agencies (Table 5).
Table 5: Agencies Participating in the California Border Alliance Group
(source: ONDCP website)

Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Internal Revenue Service, United States Attorney’s Office, United States Border Patrol, United States Bureau of Land Management, United States Coast Guard, United States Customs Service, United States Forest Service, United States Marshals Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, United States Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, Department of Defense Joint Task Force Six
State: California Attorney General’s Office, California Department of Justice-Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, California Department of Corrections, California Highway Patrol, California National Guard

Local: Calipatria Police Department, Brawley Police Department, Calexico Police Department, Carlsbad Police Department, Chula Vista Police Department, Coronado Police Department, El Centro Police Department, El Monte Police Department, Escondido Police Department, Holtville Police Department, Imperial County District Attorney’s Office, Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, Imperial County Fire Department, National City Police Department, Oceanside Police Department, San Diego Police Department, San Diego District Attorney’s Office, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Probation Dept, San Diego Harbor Police Department, Westmoreland Police Department.

The agencies in the California Border Alliance Group take care of four primary goals:
investigation, and
Separate task forces are established for interdiction (three forces) and investigation (seven forces). The other four partnerships of the Southwest Border have likewise complicated structures marked by multi-agency involvement.
In total there are no less than nine federal coordinating mechanisms that concern the Southwest Border region, among them the High Level Contact Group, chaired by the Director of the ONDCP to coordinate anti-drug efforts; the Interdiction Committee, which groups a variety of federal agencies; the Attorney General’s Executive Committee, which specifically targets the fight against drug-related border crime; and the Bilateral Working Group, which establishes military-to-military anti-drug cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico.

A brief look at the major federal agencies involved in the Southwest Border HIDTA will further bring out the centrality of the region to U.S.-Mexican policing. The FBI has a relatively minor role, mainly providing support for cooperative law enforcement efforts with Mexico. The DEA is the Department of Justice’s main representative at the border, in charge of intelligence and investigative matters. In 1996, DEA efforts along the Southwest border were responsible for more than 4,000 cases and over 5,000 arrests. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) oversees some of the most visible strategies of border control. The INS specifically focuses on a strengthening of border controls in places were the number of crossers is large and existing controls are considered weak. It also seeks to strengthen security in the major U.S. towns neighboring the border.

The growth of the presence of agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Southwest Border is impressive. In 1995, some 4,500 INS agents were stationed at the U.S.-Mexican border and an additional 400 were in training (Deflem 2001). By 1997, already more than 6,000 INS agents were at the southern U.S. border as part of an estimated total of some 12,000 federal agents. A year later, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced plans to increase the total number of federal agents at the U.S.-Mexican border to 22,000 (Christian Science Monitor 1998). And, indeed, among the most recent developments has been the deployment of even more agents and added surveillance technologies. In 1999, the number of Border Patrol agents at the U.S. border with Mexico had climbed up to more than 7,000, and by 2001, the number was over 9,000 (Houston Chronicle 1999; Washington Post 2001).

As dramatic as the number of agents is the equipment and technology employed. For instance, INS uses a biometric identification system called IDENT that registers fingerprints of alien criminals (i.e., hose who have a record in the United States or have at sometime been removed from the U.S.). Canine inspection teams, fences, electronic surveillance, and aircraft complement the technological apparatus at the disposal of the INS. Among the surveillance tools are X-ray technologies to inspect the contents of trucks and sensors that measure seismic activity of people crossing the border.

Mexican International Policing In Response

The Mexican involvement in anti-drug and other border-related forms of international policing was minimal, and affected by Mexico’s political and economic turmoils, until the Presidency of Ernesto Zedillo. Whatever law enforcement action is taken in Mexico, it has to be seen in intimate relation with U.S. developments and pressures from United States law enforcement and government authorities. In 1996, the Presidents of both countries formally committed to developing joint anti-drug and other law enforcement cooperation and established the U.S.-Mexico High Level Contact Group. It led to the development of the already mentioned U.S.-Mexico Binational Drug Strategy, initiated after Clinton’s visit to Mexico in May of 1997. It was just before Clinton’s visit, in fact, that the Mexican government had decided to abolish the National Institute to Combat Drugs, created just four years earlier, and replace it, on April 30, 1997, by a newly formed Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Health. The replacement had been necessitated because of the rampant corruption that pervaded the National Institute to Combat Drugs. In December 1996, former army general Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo had become the third person to head the Institute in as many years. However, in February 1997, a most severe blow was dealt to the Institute when Rebollo too was arrested for suspicion of involvement in the drug trade. Few weeks later, Presidents Clinton and Zedillo signed the agreements that led to the Binational Drug Strategy that provides for cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. in matters of money laundering, arms trafficking, chemical control, and drug demand reduction.

The new Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Health was at its creation headed by Mariano Herran Salvatti, with headquarters in downtown Mexico City (Los Angeles Times 1997). Agents who wish to join the Office have to undergo rigorous testing and screening in a so-called vetting process and, in an attempt to promote loyalty and professionalism, they receive higher salaries and better medical and retirement benefits. Additionally, Mexico’s Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar in 1997 also instituted a new Organized Crime Unit, specialized in investigating and prosecuting criminal organizations, especially those that are involved in drug trafficking and those that are responsible for corrupting law enforcement personnel and people in other important public offices. The Unit was formed as part of the Organized Crime Law, passed in November of 1996, which expanded Mexican police powers to allow for plea bargaining, the use of informants, a witness protection program, and court-authorized electronic surveillance.

Further oriented at increasing professionalism in Mexican law enforcement, President Ernesto Zedillo turned to the military, putting army generals in top police positions and recruiting soldiers into the ranks of agents involved in the war on drugs. In Mexico City, for instance, some 3,000 soldiers were deployed in March 1997 to direct traffic and walk the beat. The Mexican military involvement in anti-drug operations is assisted by American military personnel. Relatedly, the U.S. Department of Defense has established a training and equipment program for military airmobile, rapid-reaction anti-drug efforts in Mexico. In 1997, some 1,500 Mexican military were expected to be trained by U.S. military personnel under authority of the Department of Defense (ONDCP website).

Mexican Law Enforcement and U.S. Certification

A next important phase in enhancing Mexican police efforts was taken on the occasion of former U.S. President Clinton’s second trip to Mexico in February 1999, just shortly before the President decided on certification of foreign countries as partners in the drug trade. Certification is an annual decision that involves declaring that a country is cooperating fully with U.S. efforts against illegal drugs. Certification is announced by the President but Congress has thirty days time to overturn or let stand the decision. Countries that are decertified face suspension of most U.S.-sponsored aid programs. In the past years, there was much opposition from Congressional representatives against certifying Mexico because of the country’s poor record in the fight against illicit drugs. But former U.S. President Bill Clinton always decided to grant Mexico certification during his tenure, and newly elected President George W. Bush during his first year in office likewise certified Mexico as a full-fledged partner in the war on drugs (San Diego Union-Tribune 2001b).

Although Mexican authorities feel that the certification process is unfair —because it is only concerned with (Mexican) drug supply, not (U.S.) drug demand— and unilateral (Cottam and Marenin 1999), it seems no coincidence that just before certification of Mexico was to be decided upon in the past couple of years, Mexican authorities re-affirmed their role in the fight against the drug trade and committed to multi-million dollar expenditures on police equipment and new technologies (Boston Globe 1998; New York Times 1999a). In 1998, for example, then Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo announced a new, $380 million crime-fighting plan that included provision to professionalize law enforcement by removing corrupt officers, coordinating inter-agency efforts, restructure police training, and the creation of new police academies. A year later, new safeguards were added to certification by specifying 82 benchmarks for determining the success of joint U.S.-Mexican policing efforts alongside the 1,900 mile border. The benchmarks include a variety of indicators, such as extraditions, drug seizures, and demand reduction on the U.S. side (Boston Globe 1999a). Additionally, the Mexican government has newly established a Federal Preventive Police, consisting of highly trained and well-paid uniformed agents in charge of arresting suspects of drug-related crimes.


The logistics involved with policing the U.S.-Mexico border are considerable when we consider that in 1998 alone, 278 million people, 86 million cars, and 4 million trucks and rail cars entered the United States from Mexico (ONDCP website). But the border poses more than practical problems. Its centrality for policing, drugs, and many other policy concerns (among them, labor and environmental issues) has led observers to view the border region in terms of its own dynamics, as the fourth partner in NAFTA, next to the U.S., Canada and Mexico (Brown 1997).

Two issues emerge as critical from the present investigation. First, in terms of globalization and attained level of internationality, there is a clear persistence of national characteristics and interests in U.S.-Mexican policing efforts, even when they are planned and conducted in the form of bilateral collaboration strategies. Secondly, despite the fact that U.S.-Mexican law enforcement and border control is heavily discussed at the political level, the practice of international policing is largely a matter autonomously designed and executed by specialized police bureaucracies on the basis of knowledge and expertise.

The ‘Americanization’ of U.S.-Mexican Policing

International police work is typically engaged in as an extension of national police duties. In the case of U.S.-Mexican policing this can be inferred from many aspects of both the U.S. and the Mexican involvement. From the Mexican viewpoint, consequences of drug enforcement cannot ignore the extent to which the drug problem, including corruption and violence, has become an essential part of Mexican social life and the extent to which Mexican law enforcement has to respond to this problematic situation, particularly in terms of the corruption that is held to pervade anti-drug law enforcement. Interestingly, a report on "U.S.-Mexico Counterdrug Cooperation" by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, devotes an entire section on anti-corruption measures in Mexican law enforcement (see ONDCP website). It argues that the abolition of the National Institute to Combat Drugs and the creation of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Health and the Organized Crime Unit were steps explicitly taken to eliminate corruption in Mexican law enforcement. Therefore, also, these two new agencies are to be staffed only with officers who have passed through a vetting procedure which examines their background, in terms of drug use, personal finances, and lifestyle, with the help of a polygraph test. The vetting procedure, along with enhanced training, premium pay, and ongoing integrity checks, are seen as measures to ensure that anti-drug officers are free from corruption and competent to combat the drug cartels. Additionally, since the bringing in of military personnel in law enforcement positions, the Mexican Defense Secretariat has also engaged in efforts to investigate corruption within the ranks of the armed forces.

The results of these anti-corruption measures are ambivalent. By the end of 1999, only 282 prospective employees had passed the polygraph phase of the vetting process for the Office for Crimes Against Health, although the agency is in need of some 2,000 agents (ONDCP website). In consequence, Mexican anti-drug efforts have suffered from a lack of personnel, infrastructure, and resources. Furthermore, by the late 1990s, at least 34 senior army officers had been identified for disciplinary action because of their alleged ties to the drug trade (New York Times 1999a). The use of military personnel in anti-drug units, in other words, has not been able to prevent corruption, but appears to have mainly brought about a dispersion of corruption from law enforcement to the military. Following the death of drug cartel leader Carrillo Fuentes (who died in 1997 after excessive plastic surgery), a number of investigations were initiated (New York Times 1998a). Thereupon, several Mexican military officials have been arrested (by military authorities) and charged with corruption-related offenses, such as allegations of accepting bribes from the Carrillo Fuentes Organization (ONDCP website). In August 2000, two military generals of considerable prestige were jailed on drug charges (Los Angeles Times 2000).

Furthermore, the violence accompanying the illegal drug markets has taken on dramatic proportions. An estimated 200 Mexican police agents were killed in fiscal year 1996 alone. In 1999, a devastating, if unsuccessful strike was launched on the Mexican fight against the drug cartels when Mariano Salvatti, the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Health, was shot at when he and his wife were riding in a car in Mexico City (New York Times 1999b). The extent of corruption and related violent activities associated with the drug trade and organized crime is so widespread in Mexican public life that the country has been labeled a "narcodemocracy" (Law Enforcement News 1997), indicating how ingrained the drug trade and its repercussions are across all levels of Mexican government and in many aspects of Mexican social life. Empirical accuracy aside, important is that U.S. drug enforcement officials continually repeat that corruption pervades Mexican law enforcement units from top to bottom (Boston Globe 1999b; New York Times 1998a). Corruption is typically seen as affecting Mexican officials more than U.S. law enforcement officers, although the latter may at least have a part in the problem in not being able to prevent the spread of corruption. In 1998, for instance, it was discovered that top investigators of an elite U.S.-trained Mexican police unit had ties with drug traffickers (New York Times 1998b).

Further hampering U.S.-Mexican police collaboration is the lack of effective enforcement which U.S. officials accuse its Mexican counterparts of (Cottam and Marenin 1999). Specifically lamented are the refusals of Mexican authorities to hand over suspected Mexican nationals and to let DEA agents carry guns on Mexican soil (see "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report," Washington, DC, February 26, 1999, U.S. Department of State website). Although the United States and Mexico have signed extradition treaties since as early as 1861 —with the present agreement in effect since 1979— there have been only relatively few extraditions from Mexico to the United States since. According to a recent report from the U.S. drug czar’s office ("Main Results of the Mexico-U.S. Bi-national Cooperation Against Illicit Drugs, 1995-2000, see ONDCP website), Mexico had extradited only 8 people in the period between 1980 and 1994. Since 1995, there was a considerable increase, with a total of 61 people extradited to the United States. Among them were 11 Mexican nationals. But what the report fails to mention is that it was not until 1999 that the first extradition was approved of a Mexican national, Jesus Amezcua, accused of being a leader in the drug trade (Los Angeles Times 1999).

The low number of drug seizures by Mexican police in Mexico, moreover, has also been a source of critique (New York Times 1999a). While Mexican officials regret the implication that Mexico would be a country rampant with violence and corruption, it is striking that Mexican authorities often do respond to American criticisms, by setting up new agencies, expanding existing forces, and soliciting help from U.S. law enforcement. Indicative, for example, are the law enforcement changes Mexican authorities implement at politically critical times (before certification, before a Presidential visit). The form and direction of instituted changes also harmonizes with U.S. requests and conceptions. The Organized Crime Law of 1996, for example, legalizes methods and principles of law enforcement that are clearly part and parcel of U.S. law enforcement traditions (police informants, witness protection, electronic surveillance).

Thus, in the ‘bilateral’ partnership between the United States and Mexico, U.S. forces clearly have the upper-hand. It is evidently the very fact that both partners formally recognize their equality that the factual differences between them are revealed and maintained. The Binational Drug Control Strategy explicitly states that anti-drug programs are intended to uphold "principles of sovereignty, mutual respect, territorial integrity, and nonintervention" (ONDCP website). The differential consequences for law enforcement are all too clear. Relying on a multitude of factors indicating relative strength (personnel, equipment, available technology, and technical know-how) United States law enforcement agencies are the dominant players in every instituted bilateral initiative with Mexico, even leading to control of the organization of Mexican policing through training and logistic support.

In terms of dimensions of globalization, then, I argue that international police work, as in the case of U.S.-Mexican policing, reaffirms national police institutions as the key players in the international arena. Most critically, developments pertaining to the drug trade affect many different countries on a world-wide scale, but at the same time it is clear that national police systems are differently influenced by, and variously react to, these global processes. International police work should therefore be conceived not as police practices that involve police from more than one nation but as one dimension of the tasks and operational field of national police agencies in which they engage in addition to intra-national duties. As such, it is not only useful to discuss the domestic consequences of global processes, but it is also impossible to analyze global processes without bringing out the domestic inputs from, and outcomes for, the various localities that are involved in international life.

The Higher Amorality of International Police Work

Besides the fact that the U.S. war on drugs seems to have had little or no effect on the availability of drugs and has mostly displaced the problem, the strategy itself may be more harmful than beneficial and contribute to the organization of illegal enterprises that violently take control of the market (Gardner 1993). This may have produced ironic effects, similar to the counterproductive consequences of U.S. immigration policies (Andreas 1994, 2000; Binder, Polinard and Wrinkle 1997).

Furthermore, police coordination problems occur, first of all, between the various American police agencies. Federal, state, and municipal forces fight over jurisdictional competence, leading to inter-agency conflicts that hamper law enforcement efficiency (Carter 1978). At the level of international cooperation, distrust between American law enforcement officers and police of Mexico and other nations are particularly troublesome. American accusations of a lack of professionalism and widespread corruption in the Mexican police have been grounds to give up on collaborative efforts altogether and instead engage in unilateral cross-border police operations. DEA officials, in particular, have been very critical about Mexican police performance and they oftentimes do not seek to engage in collaboration with foreign police at all. In 1998, for instance, it was discovered that a U.S. undercover operation had earlier that year been conducted in Mexico without knowledge of the Mexican authorities (USA Today 1999).

Unilaterally enacted police operations are one dimension of the relative autonomy of police agencies in planning and instigating operations. Additionally, there is an important emphasis on efficiency of police work, irrespective of legality and justice. It is also for this reason that border controls may have contributed to accelerate the level of violence in the border region. Almost not a day goes by without a report on drug-related violent activities in the border region. And the INS and other federal U.S. police are once again accused of an excessive use of force and other violations of human rights (Holmes 1998; Martinez 1994; Nunez 1992; Dunn 1996:85-90). Relatedly, serious concerns are also expressed over the heavy reliance on technology and the military involvement in border control operations (Dunn 1996).

The following facts and figures can bring out some of the more spectacular and tragic implications of the one-dimensional purposive-rational considerations that determine U.S. police efforts at the border with Mexico (Houston Chronicle 1999; San Diego Union-Tribune, 1999b; 2001a; Washington Post 2001):

In 1999, there were 7,357 Border Patrol agents stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border, compared to only 289 agents at the border with Canada. In April 1999, Border Patrol decided to add another 1,000 agents at the border with Mexico, and by early 200, the number had gone up to 9,335.
In 1998, a total of 1,555,776 people were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2000, some 1.6 million arrests were made. From January to March of 1999, the Arizona Border Patrol alone was responsible for 200,000 apprehensions, mostly of illegal immigrants. In the San Diego area, some 475,000 apprehensions are made annually (based on 1994 and 1998 numbers).

Between 1994 and 1998, the death toll of people attempting to cross the border rose 600% to a total of 145 casualties. In the year 2000, immigrant deaths on the U.S. side of the border had risen from 231 in 1999 to 369, according to the INS. Other estimates are even higher. The Mexican Foreign Ministry, which records deaths on both sides of the border, said 499 border crossers died in 2000 and 358 in 1999.

Relative to the autonomously conducted and efficiency-driven police practices, enacted and planned regulations of formal law in terms of the drug trade, money laundering, organized crime, and extradition appear very ineffective (see Spector 1998; Zagaris and Peralta 1997). Also, compliance with the anti-drug Alliance agreements signed by the Organization of American States is at present very uncertain. Even the Office of National Drug Control Policy admits that many participating nations simply do not have an adequate system to collect adequate statistics on drug use, production, arrests, and drug trafficking. In addition, the data that various nations collect are based on different methodologies, thus preventing useful comparisons and the sharing of information (ONDCP website).

Likewise, the U.S. certification procedure appears as a mere political of a law enforcement dimension that presents a very different reality. Beyond its symbolic importance (which is not to be underestimated), certification is an annual "diplomatic rite of spring" that does not have many practical consequences for police work and U.S.-Mexican cooperation

(San Diego Union-Tribune 1999). Also, the flow of drugs is not affected as an estimated $30 billion worth of drugs are annually smuggled from Mexico to the U.S. for an estimated 60% of all illicit drugs in the United States (Ibidem). Not only do Mexican authorities feel that certification is a unilateral process, it may well also imply that U.S. authorities can claim success and effectiveness in the war on drugs simply by declaring that Mexico is fully cooperating even when cooperation is far from ideal (Houston Chronicle 2001; Los Angeles Times 1999). As Mexican authorities feel that certification is unfair, because it blames only Mexican involvement in the drug supply while not addressing the drug demand from the United States, the procedure may actually be counter-productive and contribute to a lack of cooperation from Mexican authorities. More than anything else, certification is a political decision made for political-symbolic purposes related to national interests, foreign policy and diplomacy. In that sense it can be no coincidence that newly elected U.S. President George W. Bush just few months after having been inaugurated into office, in March 2001, certified Mexico as a full-fledged partner in the war on drugs, despite continuing criticisms from members of U.S. Congress as well as Mexican government officials (San Diego Union-Tribune 2001b).

My perspective of bringing out the specific dimensions of U.S.-Mexican law enforcement underscores the Weberian model of bureaucracy that conceives of law enforcement institutions as relatively autonomous in setting their own agendas on the basis of acquired knowledge and expertise. As I have argued elsewhere (Deflem 2000:771), this does not mean that police institutions can successfully remove themselves from concerns over legality and rights, but, on the contrary, that they are subject to evaluations in normative terms precisely because of their primary reliance on efficiency standards. Internationally oriented policing is guided by expert conceptions of cross-border crime and its enforcement. And it is as a consequence of these conceptions of international crime that police institutions in practice apply a notion of efficiency in their work with no or little regard for issues of legality, due process and justice.


Revealing the many differences in the reality of international policing for Mexican and U.S. law enforcement, this analysis corroborates the viewpoint that global events have differential effects on the institutions of different nations. The influence of national concerns in international law enforcement initiatives is particularly manifested when considering U.S. involvement relative to Mexican international police work. Furthermore, analysis shows that the political conditions of foreign policy and international diplomacy do not explain the dynamics of U.S.-Mexican police work. Among the most important implications is that cooperation between Mexican and U.S. police can be hampered (or not) regardless of political and legal decision-making.

Speculating towards the future, I suspect that the Americanization of, and U.S. dominance in, police relations with Mexico (as with many other countries) will remain a constant factor of international police work. This persistence of nationality puts American law enforcement at a clear advantage relative to other police institutions in the world in bilateral and multilateral arrangements. It may additionally imply that cross-border policing plans unilaterally instituted by U.S. law enforcement agencies may be preferred, particularly inasmuch and when police of other nations would show resistance against U.S. dominance. In this global constellation, Mexican and other national systems of law enforcement cannot but find themselves in a position of dependency on their U.S. counterparts. Furthermore, with largely inconsequential methods of political and legal control, police agencies will remain independent and continue to stress efficient means to control crime with less regard for legality and rights. Without effectively implemented principles of democratic oversight in place, requirements of due process will not be considered primary in any respects and legal guarantees of protective rights will amount to nothing but legalistic fluff.

It is too hard to predict exactly how the suggested developments will affect law enforcement, in general, and police corruptibility, more specifically, within the borders of their respective jurisdiction. The reason is that a hardening of law enforcement can lead to a dispersion —i.e., a spreading of law enforcement strategies from one (international) area to another (domestic scene)— but it could also lead to a polarization of differences between styles of domestic policing and law enforcement abroad and in border regions. At present, implications of U.S.-Mexican policing in terms of corruption, violence, and effectiveness in combating the drug trade are without a doubt extremely problematic.

This article has no doubt been better at raising questions about U.S.-Mexican police relations than at providing clear-cut answers about precise questions on specific dimensions of this complicated issue. Indeed, further research would need to be done to provide better insights in at least two respects. First, research should carefully delineate the many aspects involved in U.S.-Mexican police relations in terms of a variety of criteria, such as scope and objectives. As the world of international policing is build around the law enforcement organizations of different nations that may differ greatly in terms of culture, history, and other aspects of social life, research questions should be tailored to uncover and account for the influence of these distinct realities. What may be an appropriate research question about U.S. law enforcement cannot necessarily be asked in the same way about Mexican police. Collaborative research among scholars of different nations could be an appropriate way to address these concerns.

Second, this paper has mainly focused on the organizational dimensions of U.S.-Mexican policing in terms of stated objectives, desired goals, and explicit motives in the building of an infrastructure of international policing. Also because of methodological limitations, this article could provide only little systematic information about the concrete implications of international police strategies in terms of actual operations in the field. Methods aimed at approaching law enforcement conduct on a more practical basis are needed to further penetrate and unravel the everyday reality of international police work. As globalization research in the area of policing is clearly on the rise, the task may not be impossible.


Since the Spring of 2001, when this paper was originally written, issues of corruption involved with U.S.-Mexican police relations have undergone changes because of two developments. On the one hand, more radical efforts have been made to curb police corruption and appear to have met with some level of success. Yet, on the other hand, because of the impact that has been felt among police agencies in many other parts of the world following the terrorist attacks of September 11, anti-corruption measures may not necessarily continue to receive due attention in the near future.

In most recent years, Mexican authorities have engaged in more concrete efforts to fight corruption among police. In January 2003, The Houston Chronicle newspaper reported that the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox stepped up its campaign to root out the corruption among police that in the past has so often undermined the fight against drug trafficking (“Mexico Determined to Root Out Corruption in Drug War,” The Houston Chronicle, January 26, 2003). Most clearly, the Mexican administration has very openly exposed corrupt police officers who were found to be aiding the trade in illegal drugs. Also, the Mexican Attorney General has announced the formation of an agency specifically charged with fighting corrupt practices in anti-narcotics operations. Special evaluation and qualification criteria have been introduced to ensure reliability among anti-drug police.

There are indications that this renewed attempt among Mexican authorities to fight corruption is more than merely reminiscent of previous such attempts, which were often far from successful. One indication of this is that U.S. police representatives are more optimistic about Mexico’s anti-corruption measures. For instance, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently said Mexico’s anti-corruption efforts are more serious than ever before. U.S. officials have also stated that recent attempts by the Mexican government to fight corruption among the country’s elite police forces have been successful. The U.S. federal government seems to share this optimistic attitude, as Mexico was in 2003 exempted from its annual drug certification process.

The Mexican Attorney General’s office has indeed conducted various investigations of corruption among police forces and instigated trials. In November 2002, two Mexican generals were court-martialed on drug trafficking charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Since then, attention has turned to police and to the specialized agency of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Drug Crimes. In January 2003, for instance, Mexican military troops and police raided federal anti-drug offices in 11 of Mexico’s 31 states. Following these actions, U.S. officials have reported that such efforts on the part of Mexican authorities have persuaded U.S. police agents to cooperate more closely with their Mexican counterparts. However, some problems remain, mostly because not all officials engaged in the war on drugs are optimistic about the level of trustworthiness among their colleagues. Also, analysts point out that whatever is said and done in the war on drugs, the key problem remains that the war is being lost.

Another issue that will determine the shape of corruption issues in U.S.-Mexican police relations relates to the radical shift to counter-terrorism among police organizations across the world since September 11. Because of these reorganizations, there is a considerable danger for police, not only of turning attention unduly away from the enforcement of other criminal activities, but also of added pressures being placed on police from terrorist-related organizations and individuals seeking to corrupt officials. At present it remains uncertain how these issues will play out in the future, but an increased risk of corruption cannot be readily dismissed.

The field of international policing remains a somewhat under-researched domain in the social-scientific police literature, as most police research continues to focus on local and intra-national developments. Yet, in wake of a generally increased attention to globalization, research on policing too has taken on an international focus to ponder on the interdependencies between and across national states in matters of law enforcement and crime control. I provide some interesting resources which, together with the bibliographical references relied upon in this article, readers may find helpful for their research.


Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

1500 North Beauregard Street, Suite 101, Alexandria, VA 22311, USA, phone: (703) 379-2090, 1 (800) 757-ACJS, fax: 1 (703) 379-8867, email:, website:
The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences is an international organization established in 1963 to foster professional and scholarly activities in the field of criminal justice. ACJS currently has a large number of active members that continue to meet the organization’s objectives of advancing the knowledge base in the fields of criminal justice education, research, and policy analysis. The Academy also has an International Section.

American Society of Criminology

1314 Kinnear Road, Columbus, Ohio 43212-1156, USA, phone: 1 (614) 292-9207, fax: 1 (614) 292-6767, website:
The American Society of Criminology is an international organization concerned with criminology, embracing scholarly, scientific, and professional knowledge concerning the etiology, prevention, control and treatment of crime and delinquency.

American Sociological Association

1307 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005, USA, phone: 1 (202) 383-9005, fax: 1 (202) 638-0882, website:
The American Sociological Association is a non-profit membership association dedicated to advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good. With approximately 13,000 members, ASA encompasses sociologists who are faculty members at colleges and universities, researchers, practitioners, and students. The ASA houses sections with various specialty interests that have their own websites. Among them are:

Comparative and Historical Sociology section website:

Sociology of Law section website:

Law and Society Association

205 Hampshire House, University of Massachusetts, 131 County Circle, Amherst, MA 01003-9257, USA, phone: (413) 545-4617, fax: (413) 545-1640, website:
The Law and Society Association is an organization that groups scholars from many fields and countries, interested in the place of law in social, political, economic, and cultural life. Members bring training in law, sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology, economics, and history as well as in other related areas.


Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies

Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, 211 South Indiana Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405-1001, USA, phone: (812) 855-8717; fax: (812) 855-0555, website:
The Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies is a faculty-edited, peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal focusing on the intersections of global and domestic legal regimes, markets, politics, technologies, and cultures. The journal is a forum for communication and exchange among the many research agendas that now involve the concept of globalization.

The International Criminal Justice Review

Georgia State University, P.O. Box 4018, Atlanta, GA 30302-4018, U.S.A., phone: 1 (404) 651-3660, fax: 1 (404) 651-3658, email:, website:
The Review is an academic journal dedicated to presenting system-wide trends and problems on crime and justice issues throughout the world. Articles may focus on a single country or compare issues in two or more countries. Both qualitative and quantitative pieces are encouraged, providing they adhere to standards of quality scholarship. Manuscripts may emphasize either contemporary or historical topics.

Police Practice & Research: An International Journal

Managing Editor: Arvind Verma, Department of Criminal Justice, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA, email:
Police Practice and Research presents current and innovative police research as well as operational and administrative practices from around the world. Articles and reports come from practitioners, researchers and others interested in developments in policing, analysis of public order, and the state of safety as it affects the quality of life everywhere. Attention is also focused on specific organizational information about the police in different countries or regions. Periodic special issues are devoted to a particular country or continent.

Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategy & Management

MCB University Press Ltd., 60/62 Toller Lane Bradford, England BD8 9BY, phone: 44 (0)1274 777700, fax: 44 (0)1274 785200, website:
The journal Policing provides expert discussion, analysis and strategies for those concerned with achieving greater effectiveness in policing and law enforcement. With its comprehensive coverage of cross-cultural and international issues and research, the journal provides a truly global and comparative perspective on policing.

Policing and Society

James Sheptycki, Department of Sociology, University of Durham, New Elvet, Durham, DH1 3JT, England, phone: 44 (0)191 374 2311, fax: 44 (0)191 374 4743, email:, website:
Policing and Society is concerned with the activity of policing and the factors which affect it. A major part of this material concerns formal police institutions but space is also devoted to the relationship between what the police do and the policing decisions and functions of community groups, private sector organizations and other state agencies. The journal provides a genuinely international forum and will have correspondents in most countries where there is a tradition of research and academic inquiry into all aspects of policing.

International Agencies


The International Criminal Police Organization, General Secretariat, 200, quai Charles de Gaulle, 69006 Lyon, France, fax (33) 4 72 44 71 63, website:
Interpol is the oldest international police organization. It aims to ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities, within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also seeks to establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute effectively to the prevention and suppression of ordinary law crimes.


Raamweg 47, PO Box 90850, NL-2509 LW The Hague, The Netherlands, phone: (31) 70 302 5000, fax: (31) 70 345 5896, email:, website:
Europol is the European Union law enforcement organization that handles criminal intelligence. Its aim is to improve the effectiveness and cooperation between the competent authorities of the Member States in preventing and combating serious international organized crime. The mission of Europol is to make a significant contribution to the European Union’s law enforcement action against organized crime, with an emphasis on targeting criminal organizations.

The United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network

Centre for International Crime Prevention, Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, P.O. Box 500, A-1400 Vienna, Austria, website:
The UNCJIN, as mandated by United Nations Economic and Social Council resolution 1986/11, is an electronic clearing-house that represents the culmination of several years of incremental efforts coordinated by the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention, Vienna.

The International Union of Police Associations

1421 Prince Street, Suite 400, Alexandria, VA 22314, USA, website:
The International Union of Police Associations is the only chartered union uniquely for law enforcement and law enforcement support personnel. The Union works to improve legislation that protects and affects public safety officers, as well as representing the needs of law enforcement officers and support personnel.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police

515 North Washington Street, Alexandria VA 22314, USA, phone: (703) 836 6767, email:, website:
The International Association of Chiefs of Police is the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit membership organization of police executives, with over 18,000 members in over 100 different countries. IACP’s leadership consists of the operating chief executives of international, federal, state and local agencies of all sizes.

Resources for Online Research

Deflem, Mathieu. 1998 "International Criminal Justice on the Internet." Inter-Section, Newsletter of the International Section of the ACJS (Summer 1998):1-4. An updated version is available online at:

Greek, Cecil, and Deborah B. Henry. 1997. "Criminal Justice Resources on the Internet." Journal of Criminal Justice Education 8(1):91-99.

Journal of Criminal Justice Education. 1995. Special Issue: "Information Literacy: En Route to the Information Superhighway." Journal of Criminal Justice Education 6(2):213-358.

Walker, Clive. 1998. Crime, Criminal Justice and the Internet. London: Sweet and Maxwell.

Amin, Ash. 1997. "Placing Globalization." Theory, Culture & Society 14(2):123-137.

Andreas, Peter. 1994. "The Making of Amerexico: (Mis)Handling Illegal Immigration." World Policy Journal 11(2):45-56.

____. 2000. Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Binder, Norman E., Polinard, J.L., and R.D. Wrinkle. 1997. "Mexican American and Anglo Attitudes toward Immigration Reform." Social Science Quarterly 78:324-337.

Brown, Timothy C. 1997. "The Fourth Member of NAFTA: The U.S.-Mexico Border." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (550):105-121.

Carter, Marshall. 1978. "Law Enforcement and Federalism: Bordering on Trouble." Policy Studies Journal 7:413-418.

Cottam, Martha L., and Otwin Marenin. 1999. "International Cooperation in the War on Drugs: Mexico and the United States." Policing and Society 9:209-240.

Deflem, Mathieu. 1995. "Corruption, Law and Justice: A Conceptual Clarification." Journal of Criminal Justice 23(3):243-258.

____. 1997. "Policing International Society: Views from the United States." Police Forum 7(3):6-8.

____. 2000. "Bureaucratization and Social Control: Historical Foundations of International Policing." Law & Society Review 34(3):601-640.

____. 2001. "International Police Cooperation in Northern America: A Review of Practices, Strategies, and Goals in the United States, Mexico, and Canada." In International Police Cooperation: A World Perspective, edited by Daniel Koenig and Dilip Das. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Deflem, Mathieu, and Kelly Henry-Turner. 2001. "Smuggling." Pp. 473-475 in the Encyclopedia of Criminology and Deviant Behavior, Volume 2: Crime and Juvenile Delinquency, edited by David Luckenbill and Dennis L. Peck. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge.

Deflem, Mathieu, and Fred C. Pampel. 1996. "The Myth of Post-National Identity: Popular Support for European Unification." Social Forces 75(1):119-143.

Deflem, Mathieu, and Amanda J. Swygart. 2001. "Comparative Criminal Justice." Pp. 51-68 in Handbook of Criminal Justice Administration, edited by Toni DuPont-Morales, Michael Hooper, and Judy Schmidt. New York: Marcel Dekker Publishers.

Dunn, Timothy J. 1996. The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992. Austin, TX: CMAS Books.

Fijnaut, Cyrille. 1993. "The Schengen Treaties and European Police Co-operation." European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice 1(1):37-56.

Fijnaut, Cyrille, and Gary T. Marx, eds. 1995. Undercover: Police Surveillance in Comparative Perspective. The Hague, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Gardner, Sharon A. 1993. "A Global Initiative to Deter Drug Trafficking." Temple International and Comparative Law Journal 7:287-317.

Herbert, Steve. 1999. "The End of the Territorially-Sovereign State? The Case of Crime Control in the United States." Political Geography 18:149-172.

Holmes, Malcolm D. 1998. "Perceptions of Abusive Police Practices in a U.S.-Mexico Border Community." Social Science Journal 35:107-118.

Huggins, Martha K. 1998. Political Policing: The United States and Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kettner, Matthias. 1997. "Thesen zur Bedeutung des Globalisierungsbegriffs." Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 45(6):903-918.

Law Enforcement News. 1997. "Ultra-Violent Mexican Druggies Rock Border." Law Enforcement News (John Jay College of Criminal Justice), January 15.

Martin, William G., and Mark Beittel. "Toward a Global Sociology? Evaluating Current Conceptions, Methods, and Practices." Sociological Quarterly 39(1):139-161.

Martinez, Roberto L. 1994. "NAFTA’s Effect on Human Rights at the Border." University of California Davis Law Review 27:979-985.

Nadelmann, Ethan. 1993. Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Nunez, Michael J. 1992. "Violence at Our Border." Hastings Law Journal 43:1573-1605.

Robertson, Roland. 1992. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage.

Röhl, Klaus F., and Stefan Magen. 1996. "Die Rolle des Rechts im Prozeß der Globalisierung." Zeitschrift für Rechtssoziologie 17(1):1-57.

Ruggie, John G. 1993. "Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Regions." International Organisation 47(1):139-174.

Sheptycki, J.W.E. 1996. "Law Enforcement, Justice and Democracy in the Transnational Arena." International Journal of the Sociology of Law 24:61-75.

____. 1998. "The Global Cops Cometh: Reflections on Transnationalization, Knowledge Work and Policing Subculture." British Journal of Sociology 49:57-74.

Spector, Joshua S. 1998. "Extraditing Mexican Nationals in the Fight Against International Narcotics crime." University of Michigan Journal of Law 31:1007-1037.

Weber, Max. (1922) 1980. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Zagaris, Bruce. 1996a. "International Security in the Post-Cold War Era." Fordham International Law Journal 19:1888-1902.

____. 1996b. "International Criminal and Enforcement Cooperation in the Americas in the Wake of Integration." Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas 2:1-84.

Zagaris, Bruce, and Julia P. Peralta. 1997. "Mexico-United States Extradition and Alternatives." American University Journal of International Law & Policy 12:519-702.

Newspaper Sources

Christian Science Monitor. 1998. "‘Drug Czar’s’ Plan to Shore Up Leaky Border Meets with Skepticism." August 27, p.3.

Boston Globe. 1998. "Mexico Unveils Plan to Combat Crime Wave." August 27, p. A21.

____. 1999a. "US, Mexico Agree to Strengthen Drug Fight." February 16, p. A1.

____. 1999b. "Mexico Drug Units Seen as Corrupt." February 25, p. A23.

Houston Chronicle. 1999. "485 New Agents to be Positioned Along Texas-Mexico Border by September." April 3, p. A30.

____. 2001. "Course Change: Support Bills to Alter Drug Certification of Mexico." March 6, p. A22.

Los Angeles Times. 1997. "U.S. Border Agents Called Vulnerable To Corruption." May 15, p. 19.

____. 1998. "Ex-Leader of Mexico’s War on Drugs Sentenced." March 4, p. A1.

____. 1999. "Clinton, On Mexico Visit, Lauds Nation For Drug War." February 16, p. 1.

____. 2000. "Two Senior Mexican Generals Arrested on Drug Charges." September 1, p. A4.

New York Times. 1998a. "U.S. Officials Say Mexican Military Aids Drug Traffic." March 26, p. A1.

____. 1998b. "Elite Mexican Drug Officers Said to be Tied to Traffickers." September 16, p. A1.

____. 1999a. "The Mexicans Welcome Clinton, Eager to Please ‘a Good Friend’; Judging the Mexican Drug War." February 15, pp. A4, A16.

____. 1999b. "Mexico Drug Czar Shot At." August 16, p. A7.

San Diego Union-Tribune. 1999. "A Forgiving Relationship; Yet Drug Certification Process Does Highlight Simmering Issues Between Mexico and United States." February 28, p. G4.

____. 2000a. "71-Year Prison Sentence Upheld." September 29, p. A11.

____. 2000b. "Ex-Drug Czar Gets Post in Chiapas." December 7, p. A22.

____. 2001a. "Activist urges more humane border strategy." February 15, p. B3.

____. 2001b. "Bush Certifies Mexico Efforts in Drug War." March 2, p. A2.

USA Today. 1999. "FBI to Train Anti-Drug Police." February 15, p. 8A.

Washington Post. 2001. "Catch 275,000 or Catch-22?." February 25, p. B3.

Website Sources

The Border Coordination Initiative (BCI):

The Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition, information page:

Defenselink, the official website of the U.S. Department of Defense:

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.:

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Washington, D.C.:

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s Assistance Center, Miami, Florida:

Lexis-Nexis, Academic Universe:

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Washington, D.C.:

Organization of American States:

U.S. Department of State:

See related writings on the Publications Page.