Should I Bribe a Mexican Cop?

Mexican police badge, DF.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.

Dan writes:
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.

Thanks,
Dan

Churpa:

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.

3 Responses to “Should I Bribe a Mexican Cop?”

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  1. -El Codo- says:

    Demand to be taken to La Commandancia.

    6 July, I was flagged to the side of the street in Guerrero Negro. I had stopped at a stop sign for four full seconds. I could have ran around and jumped the the back seat.

    He called me a liar. I got out of the car, pointed my finger at him and told him “Tu es MORDELON!”
    This is ABSOLUTELY NOT RECOMMENDED and you’re going to read why. Why did i called him a bribe taker? He refused to go to the commandancia three times after I had asked him politely.

    This pissed me off…

    He grabbed me and handcuffed me and pushed my face into the trunk. I hardly could suppress laughing (absolutely another no-no)

    OK you want to play huh?

    I twisted my face sideways as he was pushing me down onto the trunk and said

    MORDELON!

    He savagely crimped the handcuffs tight.

    I wanted bruises. Marks. This was going to go -all the way-

    A van arrived. I was pushed into the side door

    Then taken to the jail. The woman cop running the desk saw my purple hands and yelled TAKE THOSE CUFFS OFF! NOW!

    The cops stammered. They stuttered. But then after a half hour they took me to El Commandante.

    He saw my wrists and freaked (angry red welts) and swollen hands.

    I politely wished him good afternoon and gently shook hands.

    He asked me to explain my story and I did.calmly and accurately. I forgot about the part where i called the cop a bribe taker.

    He could not take his eyes off my wrists.

    “This is wrong!” He thundered. “This is not right! I am going to investigate, ahora mismo (right this minute!”)

    He called in his lieutenant. “The car?” he asked. “Where is the car?”

    10 minutes later the teniente returned and said “The car is easy to see it has placas incapacidades (Disabled plates with wheel chair symbol)”.

    “WHAT!!!!!” The commandante’s face turned sheet white…

    He still couldn’t take his eyes off my wrists,

    “You go this minute and you bring this car here, now!”

    “Si commandante!”

    The car arrived 10 minutes later. Two cops gently helped me to the car. i shook hands with everyone and left. It was an entertaining afternoon,

    I found out a week later the cop (he was a transito municipal de municipio Mulege) was fired that day. Cops in Guerrero Negro, Vizcaino, and other places verified it. He was a punk hot head.

    CAVEAT CAVEAT CAVEAT CAVEAT (is that enough?)

    I resisted telling this story. I am no hero. But this @#$%^&! cop not only tried to screw me (1,000 pesos) he laughed in my face. Wrong thing to do. Too many people saw me arrested on the main street of a small town. Too many folks and friends here knew I was traveling. The cop only made it worse and worse.

    Again and again I will repeat. DO NOT TRY THIS YOURSELF UNLESS YOU SPEAK SPANISH AND ARE VERY CONFIDENT!

    However…demand to go to la comandancia.

    If they refuse demand they call a TRANSITO a cop with a car and a radio.

    If they ask for money tell them you want a FACTURA an official government receipt.

    If you need to, call a taxi and have them take you to the police station. If the cop on duty acts reluctant demand to see EL JUEZ the judge.

    Someone somewhere is going to back down. My episode from start to finish took two hours 12 minutes. I departed Guerrero Negro with a smug look. And yes, I have returned multiple times and drove all over. The cops pretend they do not see me.

    To prevent foolish responses like “You could have been killed or beat up or jailed, it wouldn’t have happened, and if you think otherwise you do not know the power of a tourist in Mexico.

    If I had pressed formal charges through the Ministerio Publico (District Attorney) the cop would have ended up in prison.

    My story is an extreme example of not backing down. I am not proud of it but I want to share this with all the folks I can. Cops encounter tourists who spit out 100 dollar bills like they are a cash machine. The cops get greedy. Me, a resident have to deal with these hand-fed assholes and I do not like the hassle.

    Don’t feed the assholes. Please! Protest crooked cops but first be damned sure you know what the speed limit is, and don’t play stupid and get upset because you ran a stop sign or were speeding “Because everyone else was”,

  2. -El Codo- says:

    POST SCRIPT

    I re-read what I wrote above and with a red face realized my comments about spitting cash out like an ATM made Churpa’s story sound like she did something against my “principles”

    She didn’t and I apologize for not clarifying this in my comments above.

    The driver unfastened the chest strap of her seat belt. From outside the car a cop cannot tell the lap belt was fastened. So they “had” the driver dead-to-rights. A California Highway Patrolman explained to me “A seat belt fastened incorrectly merits the same gravity and penalty as wearing no seat belt at all”. So blaming a Mexican cop for that “infraccion” is warrant less. They had her dead-to-rights. As far as the fictitious charges for other people in the car not being correctly belted that’s another matter entirely but it would be useless to argue the point — the “Door Had Been Opened” when the driver presented a picture of being unbelted. Prudence is called for when driving in Mexico as well as in the USA. Many complaints arise because foreign drivers do not know Mexican traffic laws.

    For instance, throughout Mexico it is illegal to ENTER a traffic light intersection when the light is amber. Not red, amber. Enter means enter. When the semafor turns yellow — Stop. There are other “unique differences” between familiar USA and Canadian traffic laws and Mexican traffic laws. It is illegal to drive in the left hand lane of a multi-lane boulevard unless passing another vehicle or a left hand turn is imminent. People usually get nailed, on a relatively deserted boulevard rather than on a crowded downtown street. Left land for passing only is also the law on major highways and Cuotas, toll roads.

    Cops tend to get irate when a foreign motorist indignantly argues that a law that is clearly written in their traffic law code enforcement book “Does not exist”.

    Seat belt infractions are strictly monitored in Mexico. But this old fart has come to the conclusion that only a person with a death wish thinks Mexico is safer unbuckled than driving north of the border. Look for and obey speed limit signs, stop signs tacked to a tree, signal lights way the hell and far gone across a wide six lane intersection and other wacky absurdities. I particularly like the practice of placing an exit sign well beyond the actual turnoff.

    Driving in Mexico does not require video game reaction skills, nor is it a mine field of cop traps and flashing red and blue lights. Driving in Mexico requires a driver to be self aware, and pay attention to signage regardless of what other drivers are doing. Mexican friends laugh when a speeding motorist roars past me, and i comment “carnada” (bait).

  3. -El Codo- says:

    And a SECOND Post Script if I may….advice…

    No matter what the circumstances may be…

    Never conduct yourself in a manner that can remotely be construed as becoming physically aggressive toward a Mexican cop. if you manage to lose your temper and start yelling, glue your feet to the ground take. not one step toward the cop. Advancing toward a cop (especially when there are cop witnesses) puts person at great risk of being charged with assault. The game is over and to jail the individual goes.

    Never use groserias, not so much as a “pinche” in your conversation (argument) with a cop. Groserias are swear words, and there are vague yet enforceable laws dealing with use of them in public. Don’t forfeit an advantage by cursing either in Spanish or in English. Yes this is hard to do sometimes.I used the word MORDELON, insulting and demeaning but absolutely not a groseria. It’s best to bite the tongue altogether.

    And thankfully for the last caveat, try to avoid doing what I did. Do things the right way and official way.