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California and the West

Tijuana Mourns Its Slain Police Chief

Ceremonies: Mayor says violence has reached intolerable levels. Top federal officials arrive in bid to improve cooperation between national and local law enforcement.

March 01, 2000|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TIJUANA — Amid pleas for an end to mounting violence, hundreds of local officials, police and residents bade farewell Tuesday to Police Chief Alfredo de la Torre Marquez, whose ambush slaying Sunday added fresh shock to a city already reeling from crime.

"The situation has reached intolerable limits. Tijuana's citizens demand . . . an end to this climate of horror," Mayor Francisco Vega de la Madrid told more than 1,000 mourners outside City Hall.

Vega said Tijuana has become "a theater of operations for a type of crime that has international tentacles and constitutes a challenge to national security."

His remarks came during a day of remembrances of De la Torre, 49, a popular chief who was shot to death as he drove alone on a cross-town expressway.

At Tuesday's outdoor ceremony, scores of police officers from both sides of the border lined the plaza to pay their respects.

Baja California state law enforcement officials said there had been no arrests or other breakthroughs in the case as investigators continued to question possible witnesses and to test spent bullet shells found in a Jeep Cherokee seized after the morning shooting.

Officials said gunmen in two or three vehicles pulled alongside De la Torre and opened fire with at least one AK-47 assault rifle and a 9-millimeter semiautomatic weapon.

Forensic specialists told reporters that the chief was hit 57 times and his vehicle riddled with more than 100 bullets.

The slaying added to a wave of violence that has included more than 70 homicides so far this year.

Top Mexican officials dispatched by President Ernesto Zedillo arrived Tuesday in Tijuana, promising more spending to fight crime, and better coordination between federal authorities and overwhelmed local law enforcement officials. State and federal authorities in Baja California have long blamed each other for failure to stem the crime wave.

"We need to overcome the problems of mistrust between the police agencies," said Interior Minister Diodoro Carrasco.

Mexican federal and state authorities also announced formation of joint teams to track drug sales and gather other intelligence on the narcotics trade.

But some found the measures lacking. "We don't see any concrete actions," complained Francisco Garcia Burgos, a state leader of the opposition National Action Party.

The visit by Carrasco and Atty. Gen. Jorge Madrazo had been planned before the chief's slaying but fueled calls Tuesday for help in battling the rising death toll.

More than 350 people packed a tearful midday Mass in a church near City Hall, among them De la Torre's widow, Norma, and the couple's three children.

"May God strengthen the heart of the family, strengthen the heart of [law enforcement officials] so this situation of insecurity becomes a situation of security," said Father Sergio de la Cerda.

Tijuana resident Lupita Mendiola, who said she has known the De la Torre family for more than a decade, termed the slaying one more setback to efforts to bring order to Tijuana, the home of the notorious Arellano Felix drug gang and bands of people who smuggle immigrants across the U.S. border.

De la Torre had borrowed community policing techniques from law enforcement agencies in the United States to reduce petty crime and had begun crackdowns on small-time drug dealers and smugglers of illegal immigrants.

"If you want to do something good, this happens," said auto parts importer Mendiola, red-eyed and clutching a box of tissues.

"He started to do a lot of things," she said. "Maybe somebody didn't like that."

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