The mayors of Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Mexicali and Tecate recently invited media on a three-day tour of the region to discuss the changes that have been made to ensure the safety of tourists. The Mission Times Courier was one of several media outlets from California, Arizona and Nevada that joined government officials on the tour.
Tijuana’s new mayor and police chief say public safety for tourists is a top priority. Mayor Carlos Bustamante says media reports of crimes involving drug cartels over the past several years have led many to believe Tijuana has turned into “a crime city”. Today, officials say that perception couldn’t be farther from the truth. Police Chief Gustavo Huerta credits heightened enforcement and training for turning the city back into a safe place for residents and tourists. Thanks to greater coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement, the city has seen a higher number of seizures of drugs. The city has seen a 30% decrease in crimes involving cartel members and a 40% decline in violent crimes and robberies.
The police chief says new training standards and procedures have also been implemented to make sure officers are fulfilling their obligation. More than 500 officers have been fired for failing to comply.
“We’re not going to put up with any corruption,” Chief Huerta said.
A new “tourist police” force has been put in place in tourist areas, including Avenida Revolución, a downtown area known for its restaurants and shopping. The bilingual officers are more easily recognized and are eager to help tourists during their stay.
“Feel safe that being here as a foreign or national tourist, you will be treated safely according to standards that have been established with the United States and Mexico,” Huerta said.
Starting last month, a “Passport to Baja Cities” document is being distributed to tourists. The booklet contains contact information for the mayors, police chiefs and security directors in each Baja city. If tourists encounter any safety issues while visiting Baja, the cities want to hear from them. The document is available through the Mexican Consulate and will also be distributed to travel agencies.
The city of Tijuana’s tourism industry has been hit hard the past few years. Officials say hotels have seen a 30 percent decline in occupancy, and restaurants have also been hard hit.
Located just 20 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border, Rosarito is a popular tourist destination known for its beaches, restaurants (especially lobster), outdoor, activities, culture and vibrant nightlife.
Mayor Javier Robles says his top priority is to bring back tourists since tourism makes up about 70 percent of his community’s economy. Hotel occupancy rates have dropped to just 50 percent. Even though Americans make up about 20 percent of the city’s population, officials say many who once enjoyed the beach community have yet to return after hearing the reports of crimes that have taken place the past several years around the city, including the scenic 1 highway between Tijuana and Rosarito. The mayor says the city’s reputation has been so bad that many retired American residents haven’t even been able to convince their grandkids to visit again.
Since many crimes involved police officers, city officials knew one of the first things they had to do before tourists would return was combat corruption within its own ranks. The mayor is pleased to report that half of Rosarito’s police force has been replaced over the last three years. Robles thanks the San Diego Police Department for helping to train its officers.
The new 34-year-old mayor says there’s never been a better time to visit Rosarito. On Feb. 17, the Governor of Mexico visited Rosarito to recognize the city for its efforts to improve safety for tourists. Up to 50 bilingual tourist police officers now patrol the city and guide tourists with anything they might need during their stay.
“The chiefs and commanders are always attentive to make sure officers are following their work so they will not do any act of corruption against our visitors,” said Major Magdaleno, Rosarito’s Police Chief. “I invite all tourists to visit us so they can see for themselves this is a very safe city.”
Tourist police staff information booths to guide tourists and provide directions to local attractions.
Known as the “Cinderella of the Pacific”, Ensenada is located 70 miles south of the international border. The city’s accessibility by land, air and sea has made it a favorite tourist destination, and it’s the second most-visited port-of-call for cruise lines.
Ensenada’s police chief, Alfredo Rosales Green says the implementation of tourist police has helped reassure safety among tourists and has further helped Ensenada maintain its reputation as the most secure city in the state of Baja California.
“Just ask the people who live here how secure it is here and what a difference they have seen in the police force,” he said.
Due to inclement weather, we didn’t come across many tourists in our brief stay in Ensenada, but those who we did meet said they feel safe.
“With what I’ve seen, I’m very comfortable,” said John Englehart who stayed in Ensenada on his way to La Paz.
Englehart has crossed the border more than 30 times and said it was a different experience this time.
“When we came through the border in Tecate, there were more armed personnel, more K-9 dogs,” he said. “The customs officials were very nice; they treated us well.”
Baja cities are hopeful their increased efforts to protect cross-border travelers will give their tourism industry a boost.
Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas, and avoiding areas where criminal activity might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable. Those considering visiting Baja will find useful, up-to-date travel safety information at www.travel.state.gov. Just choose Mexico under “Country Information.”