Deep in a bunker in Mexico City, police intelligence analysts monitor live images from street cameras, radars and drones in a vast effort to bring drug cartels to justice.
But despite the creation of this state-of-the-art Intelligence Center three years ago, Mexican federal police have struggled to stem drug trafficking and reverse the ever-rising homicide rate in the country.
“It has been a huge investment. Never has so much money been spent on public security with such terrible results,” Samuel Gonzalez, a private security consultant and former drug prosecutor, told AFP.
The three-floor, 18-meter (60-foot) deep facility is one of the crime-fighting tools launched by the government of outgoing President Felipe Calderon during his six-year term, which ends in December.
Calderon’s tactics have included the deployment of soldiers across the country in 2006. Since then, drug violence has spiraled out of control, leaving a grim death toll of more than 50,000 and counting.
The homicide rate, which includes all types of murders, has almost tripled since 2005, from nine homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2005 to 24 per 100,000 last year, according to official statistics released this week.
Analysts say Calderon’s military offensive has backfired because the capture or killing of gang leaders sets off bloody turf wars between cartels fighting for control of cocaine and methamphetamine exports to the United States.
The bunker, hidden under the well-groomed lawn of a federal police facility in the capital, serves as a data center for police to collect and share a slew of information on criminals.
In a rare tour for reporters, Mexican officials showed off a circular room where analysts peer at computer monitors and giant screens showing live videos as well as radar images of airplanes and ships arriving in Mexico.
One large regional map showed yellow dots representing small planes that flew from Colombia, the world’s main cocaine producer, to Honduras, which has become a hub for drugs smuggled to the United States.
Officials even get real-time videos beamed by drones – the same type of pilotless spy aircraft used by the US military in Afghanistan.
Thousands of camera feeds from the streets of Mexico City and other towns across the nation are relayed to the bunker.
On one screen, cars and trucks are seen going through an X-ray machine looking for concealed drugs or migrants in Ciudad Juarez, the city at the US border considered the epicenter of the violence.
Some 500 million files, including police reports, rap sheets and vehicle registrations are stored in rows of computer servers on the bottom floor.
“There is no other data fusion center like this in Latin America,” said Francisco Niembro Gonzalez, under secretary for information technology at the public security ministry.
The intelligence gathered by the center has helped federal police nab more than 113,000 suspects while 22 of the 37 most wanted druglords have been captured, he said.
Despite the nationwide surveillance, the most wanted man in Mexico, the billionaire boss of the Sinaloa cartel Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman remains on the run since he escaped from prison by hiding in a laundry basket in 2001.
Gonzalez defended the federal police effort, noting that the agency was still learning to use the relatively new domestic intelligence network.
“It’s a question of time,” Gonzalez said. “As we continue with this intelligence work, they will all fall in the end.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]