editor’s note: I recently mentioned getting pulled over by cops in Acapulco. Dan wrote wanting to know more, and I think he raises some interesting questions about bribery in modern Mexico.
In regards to your interaction with the cops in Acapulco, a few questions:
1. Was this federal police or local police?
2. Where were you stopped, was it on the main touristy road, Costiera Miguel Aleman?
3. What did they ask from you?
4. What’s an appropriate bribe in these cases in pesos?
5. Did you show them your original driving license or a copy?
6. How did you bring up the money issue-did they ask directly or you just offered it? I read some stories that it could be dangerous to bribe the Federales.
It was a sweltering evening in Acapulco. The world seemed a haze of diesel exhaust and honking horns. We had hoped to find camping or a cheap hotel on the outside the city, but we were stuck in an awful traffic jam. Just as the traffic seemed to abate, my friend Gina twisted around to grab something out of the back of the van. She was still wearing her seat belt, but her shoulder strap was down.
In an instant, we were pulled over by a cadre angry cops, who were hanging out by the side of the road. (I don’t exactly recall what road we were on, just that it was a major thoroughfare and that we were trying to get out of town.) The cops claimed that neither Rich (our driver) or Gina had been wearing belts. The former was a lie and the latter a misunderstanding. Of course that got us nowhere.
The cops were locals, with caps marked “AUX,” which indicates that they were auxiliary police, not full time members of the force. The state and local police forces hire these guys when they need extra hands. (When they are not working for the government, these auxiliary officers are sometimes hired by private companies as security, as has been the case during the occupation of Tenacatita.) The guys who pulled us over were probably working for the municipality. Or possibly they were just running an independent scam, though I rather doubt that.
These days I don’t bother with the “copied” license thing. It’s not legal to drive in Mexico with a photocopied driver’s license, so most cops will be annoyed if you try to give pass one off. That said, we gave them an original driver’s license and of course they threatened to confiscate it. I believe they demanded 1,000 pesos for a “ticket” and we told them we didn’t have it. We settled on 600, which is a lot. We were tired and hungry and had been stuck in traffic. Also we were slightly in the wrong. If we’d pressed the issue, we could have asked for them to take us to the station, whereupon they might have backed down. Either that or we’d have gone to the station and dealt with it there. The sun was sinking. We were more in the mood for a fried fish and a cold cerveza than a drive into the congested heart of Acapulco to talk with el comandante.
What’s an appropriate bribe in these cases in pesos? Given the precarious and valuable nature of Mexico’s tourism industry, cops are not supposed to harass tourists. Mexico has changed a lot in recent years and not all cops are corrupt. I’m not in the habit of trying to bribe officers unless they bring it up first. But the police don’t make a lot of money in Mexico, and some guys are still on the take.
If a cop is harassing you and you haven’t done anything, I’d recommend asking him to take you to the station so you can work it out with his boss. This is a good way to get out of paying a mordida (little bite, or bribe) but it only really works if you are more or less innocent. If you are actually in trouble and want to try to bribe your way out, be sure to approach the situation discretely and politely.
As Carl writes in our chapter on “Red Tape and the Law”:
“You don’t bribe someone by stuffing a wad of bills in his pocket and saying, ‘Here ya go, baby, a little something for the wife and kids!’ There are more subtle and respectable techniques used to feel out the other person on their attitude and price. The easiest is the , ‘Gee whiz, I sure wish you’d tell me what to do’ angle. Other effective openers to the payoff are: ‘Isn’t there some way this can be worked out?’ or ‘Will there be an extra charge?’ or the national favorite, ‘Is there no other way of arranging the matter?’ (The People’s Guide to Mexico pg. 388-389. All Rights Reserved.)
Carl goes into considerable detail about how to pull this off, and there’s additional info on the etiquette of bribery on pg. 164-165 of the most recent edition of The People’s Guide to Mexico.