New Baja Tourist Police Force

Published 21 January 10 01:02 PM

From Ron Raposa

SAN DIEGO — Mexican cities south of the California border on Friday marked the launch of the new Metropolitan Tourist Police in an effort to regain the confidence of Americans looking for lobster dinners, cheap margaritas and pristine beaches.



Twenty-two police officers from Tijuana, Playas de Rosarito and Ensenada were recognized for completing a one-day course at the San Diego police academy to prepare for the April 1 launch of the new force, a joint effort of the cities to patrol a 70-mile stretch of Pacific coastline.


Americans have stayed away in the past year, largely because of media exagerations and false perceptions of violence affecting tourism.


"It won't be magic, but at least we're trying," William Yu, Tijuana's liaison for binational affairs, told the officers Thursday as he prepared them for the ceremony.


San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said during Friday's event at the city's police headquarters that the new force should ease tourists' understandable concerns about safety.


I’m confident that this relationship will enable us to expand tourism opportunities on both sides of the border,” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told an audience of officers, mayors and representatives from both the Mexican and U.S. consulates.


The Metropolitan Tourist Police will join with other agencies in patrolling parts of the 70-mile tourist corridor from Tijuana to Ensenada. They will offer special assistance to visitors and also can issue bilingual traffic tickets that can be paid from the U.S.


The officers, who will have their own uniforms and cars, said they liked a visit during the class to a simulated shooting range in which they were asked to react to threatening scenarios played on a video screen.


San Diego police Sgt. David Landman also drew on training material that is widely used by California law enforcement agencies, including role-playing techniques with an emphasis on how to treat people respectfully.


Landman, who oversees training for veteran San Diego officers, quizzed the officers often.


"If a police officer runs a stop sign, it sends a very bad signal to the people," one said.


"You must practice what you preach, set an example for the people," another chimed in.


The officers will return to Mexico to train colleagues in each of the three cities for the special force, which is expected to eventually have 350 officers. Playas de Rosarito, widely known as Rosarito Beach, will begin with 30 officers. Tijuana expects to start with about 60.


Some Mexican officials and American expatriates said the region has been unfairly tarnished, partly by recycled media reports of violence against tourists more than two years ago. Officials said the vast majority of murder victims were small-time drug dealers caught in turf battles.


The battered tourism industry remains an economic pillar of Mexico's northern Baja California peninsula.


Yet in Rosarito Beach, authorities estimated the number of visitors during the high season of April to November slid 70 percent from 2005 to 2009. Tourism accounts for about 60 percent of the economy in the city of 120,000 people.


Approximately 15% of these residents are American expats


Obviously, great deals and amazing prices -from groceries and souvenirs to hotels and real estate, can be found in the Rosarito Beach and Ensenada areas at the moment.


In fact, northern Baja is preparing a major advertising campaing, both in the US and Mexico... and branding the beautiful norhtern Baja area with the name of "Riviera Baja"


"We need to show everyone the beauties and richenes of this part of Mexico... said Hugo Torres, Rosarito Beach´s mayor.


The Baja Riviera branding is supported by the city governments of Rosarito Beach, Ensenada and Tijuana and by all business and civil organizations in the Baja area.


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