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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

Tijuana's former top cop to tackle crime in Ciudad Juarez

Julian Leyzaola, who is credited with restoring law and order to Tijuana, is named public safety secretary in Ciudad Juarez, where drug cartels have made the city the most violent in Mexico.

March 11, 2011|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — A retired Mexican army officer widely credited with restoring law and order as the top police official in Tijuana was named Thursday to a similar post in Ciudad Juarez, the country's most violent city.

Julian Leyzaola, who was a lieutenant colonel, was appointed public safety secretary by Ciudad Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia, who was elected last July. He takes over security in a city where fighting between drug cartels has sent killings skyrocketing, with more than 6,400 people slain since late 2006.

Complicating the challenge, much of the violence involves gang members who often serve as foot soldiers for the cartels but also battle one another for control of street-corner drug sales.

Murguia said Leyzaola had "the experience, the honesty and the capacity" to tackle Juarez's daunting problems.

Leyzaola, who served as Tijuana's police chief for a year before being promoted to public safety secretary in 2008, won plaudits in Baja California for employing an iron hand against drug traffickers and purging the force of hundreds of dirty cops.

He earned a reputation as incorruptible and was credited by many residents with helping bring investment back to Tijuana. However, critics accused Leyzaola of brutality, saying he took part in the torture and beatings of suspect police officers.

Leyzaola recently served as Baja California state's deputy public safety secretary after Tijuana's new mayor last year hired someone else as the city's public safety chief.

In Ciudad Juarez, Leyzaola takes over for another army officer, Lt. Col. Laurencio Rodriguez.

Numerous acting or retired military officers have been named to top public safety posts around Mexico amid the government's 4-year-old offensive against drug traffickers.

The tactic hasn't always worked. Some military officers have been slain or accused of corruption. In some cases, such as Ciudad Juarez, naming military men to run the police failed to bring down the homicide rate.

Juarez officials in recent years have sought to clean up the local police force, many of whose members also worked on behalf of drug traffickers with the Juarez cartel based there. More than 700 officers left in 2008 after failing or refusing screenings.

The previous mayor, Jose Reyes Ferriz, also pushed a hiring drive, boosting the force to 3,000 from 1,600.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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