Earlier this year, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani paid a very high-profile visit to Mexico. His consulting firm was there to advise Mexican officials on matters related to crime and endemic corruption.
He preached the gospel of zero tolerance. It was a strategy that had brought results in New York — no modest accomplishment.
Last month another American contingent visited Mexico on a similar mission. Only this one was well under the publicity radar. And it brought a different message.
The group of four academics included three University of Tampa criminology professors: Christopher Capsambelis, Anthony LaRose and Thomas Hickey. Under the auspices of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, they were invited to make presentations to police and justice officials regarding Mexico’s well documented bribe culture — or “mordida.” Their advice: endemic corruption does not lend itself to zero tolerance. Forget that approach.
“If change is going to occur, it will have to involve a change in the culture,” stated Hickey, an expert in U.S. constitutional law. “We’re talking long-term enterprise. Zero tolerance is just a Band-Aid, sound-bite solution that displaces people to other social service agencies. And Mexico doesn’t have that kind of safety net.”
The only realistic strategy, said Hickey, was two-pronged and would likely span at least three generations. From the top down, it had to be communicated that “mordida” was no longer acceptable. He was encouraged, he said, because the rank-and-file officers they met “overwhelmingly” expressed the view that they didn’t want to be regarded as corrupt.
But more important was education, he stressed, which meant schools and — especially — the home. “Parents need to develop a sense of conscience in their kids,” he explained. And, yes, there was reason for optimism because the sense of family — and extended family — is so strong, he noted.
Hickey likened the approach to America’s experience with anti-smoking campaigns. They’re having an impact, but it didn’t happen overnight.
“It really begins within the structure of the family and the educational system,” underscored Hickey. “Reductionist, simplistic suggestions are just Band-Aids and won’t affect long-term change.”