Cartels Are on a Cop-Killing Spree in One of Mexico’s Most Violent States

In the state of Zacatecas, 16 police officers have been killed since 2022 began.

Police officer Julio Esparza left his station in the city of Fresnillo, Zacatecas at the end of his night shift on an evening in mid-March. Like every other day, he left his gun in his locker and was still wearing his uniform when he jumped into his pickup to head home. His girlfriend, who was not a police officer, rode with him that night.

After driving just a couple of blocks, several armed men blocked the road and fired into his car at least 20 times. Then their bodies were both incinerated where they sat. 


A week before, on March 9, another policeman was shot dead in the Guadalupe municipality, just a few blocks from his station after his shift ended. He managed to call his colleagues for help but was found dead on arrival.

Police killings in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas are becoming increasingly common. Officers have been on strike for nearly a week after at least 16 of their colleagues were murdered during the first four months of this year. 

Almost all the police officers were killed after leaving their headquarters or traveling between their homes and the police station. 

More than 20 police officers have quit their posts in the state since November after they were denied better wages and permission to carry their weapons when off-duty. Mexican weapons law prohibits officers from carrying their guns after leaving their station. 

Along with Michoacán, Zacatecas is one of Mexico’s most violent states. Killings spiked more than 140 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to government figures, from 789 to 1,134. 

Zacatecas also leads as the state with the most policemen killed in Mexico, according to security nonprofit Causa en Común (Spanish for Common Cause). 


At least one police officer is killed every day in Mexico. Of the 94 cops murdered across the country’s 32 states so far this year, 16 were in Zacatecas. The Mexican government sent the National Guard to watch over nine municipalities there after they were left without police officers due to so many killings this year. 

Another 11 police officers were killed in Guanajuato, eight in Veracruz, eight in Michoacán, and six in Sonora since the start of 2022, according to Causa en Común’s data.

The reasons behind the bloodshed in Zacatecas could be related to politics, Eduardo Guerrero of security firm Lantia Intelligence said. 

“When a state like Zacatecas has elections… criminal groups try to intimidate law enforcement to make them work for them or to negotiate a free pass to let them operate freely across the state,” he said. 

The state of Zacatecas had elections last June to appoint a new governor. The Sinaloa Cartel, Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG for its Spanish acronym) and the Gulf Cartel all have a presence there. 

“All of these are high-profile organizations with the power to force entire police forces to work for them,” Guerrero said. “But the biggest tragedy is that policemen feel very vulnerable, because on top of everything, they are underpaid, and many are leaving their jobs for good.”

Zacatecas has been an important strategic spot for drug cartels because of its location along the drug routes toward the U.S., but also for other criminal markets such as fuel theft and street-level drug trafficking, according to the latest security report published by Lantia Intelligence.


worldnews, world drugs

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