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Video Shows Mexican Police Running From Gunmen

The authorities say the gunmen were carrying out a targeted strike against a young man accused of kidnapping a local woman, and that the officers fled because they were concerned about triggering a bloodbath.
Screenshot by VICE News

A video showing Mexican police officers running away from gunmen — who then kidnap a young man and apparently kill him —  looks like a damning indictment of the country's law enforcement capabilities.

The authorities, however, have claimed that the officers were actually in the middle of a "tactical retreat" designed to avoid a bloodbath.

The video begins with six officers running to their cars in the town of Escuinapa, in the northern state of Sinaloa. This is followed by images of at least two vehicles drawing up to the victim's home. Occupants of the vehicles are seen bundling a young man into one of the cars amid screams from his family. The intensity of the screams increases at the sound of three shots.


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At several points during the video a woman is heard calling on somebody to "slash their tires, so they can't go." It is not clear if she is talking about the kidnappers or the police. The video ends with the vehicles of the gunmen driving off.

Video via YouTube

According to Bonifacio Bustamante, the mayor of Escuinapa, the police officers were not actually running away. Rather, he told VICE News, they were withdrawing in order to avoid a major confrontation that could have ended with more civilian casualties.

"It's called tactical retreat. If the police had not fled and instead started shooting without a good strategy we could have had eight or 10 deaths," he said. "It's ridiculous what people think."

Bustamante said that the victim was a 27-year-old called Elías Constantino who had been accused of kidnapping a local girl by her family. The police, he added, had gone to Constantino's house in order to question him, when a convoy of three vehicles carrying about 15 heavily-armed gunmen arrived at the scene in what appeared to be a revenge attack directed only against him.

"The police had to measure whether to act or not because there were kids running in the street and women running in the street and because curious people stick their noses into things that are high risk," he said. "If the police had confronted the gunmen there could have been problems of collateral damage."


The mayor said the gunmen killed Constantino at the scene and then dumped his body on a highway about 75 miles away.

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The incident, that happened on Wednesday, received no attention until the video — apparently filmed by the victim's family — was posted on YouTube on the weekend.

With the social media furor in full swing, Sinaloa prosecutor's office told the regional newspaper El Noreste that the four state and two municipal policemen involved had been arrested and are under investigation.

"It's shameful. It's not like they didn't have a way of defending the citizens, they are carrying assault rifles," Maria Elena Morera, president of the anti-crime group Causa en Común, or Common Cause, said of the officers. "What's more, they are talking on the phone as they leave, suggesting they got orders to go, and leave the gang free to kidnap."

Morera said her group would be demanding a full investigation into why the officers ran, including the possibility that they were under orders of the gunmen.

"Even if it were a dispute between criminal gangs, the police shouldn't allow murder," she said. "I can find no logical [law enforcement] explanation for leaving people alone."

Related: An Entire Police Force in Mexico Is Held For Questioning Over Kidnapped Journalist

Mexican police have long been famed for being both ineffective and corrupt. Successive governments have sought to address the problem with methods ranging from mandatory trust tests to setting up whole new forces that promise to kickstart a new policing ethos. The failure of these efforts to make a substantial difference remains the main justification for the central role given to Mexico's army and navy in the country's struggle to contain its powerful drug cartels.


President Enrique Peña Nieto has put his faith for improving policing in a project that foresees the mandatory dissolution of all municipal police forces and the modernization of state level forces. The project is known as the "mando único" or "single command," and is currently in discussion in the national legislature.

The Peña Nieto administration's insistence that municipal authorities carry most of the blame for Mexico's ineffective policing has been the core of its response to the shocking disappearance of 43 student teachers in the southern city of Iguala in September 2014. The students went missing after they were attacked by municipal police in league with a local drug gang.

Critics, however, point out that state, or even federal, forces are not necessarily any better than their municipal counterparts.

Five young people who disappeared a month ago in the town of Tierra Blanca, in the state of Veracruz, were last seen being arrested by state police. Some of the officers allegedly involved have been arrested, but the five men and one woman are still missing.

Related: Related: Fightback Continues Against Sexual Brutality by Mexican Police

Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten