Tijuana. – Retired Army Lt. Col. Julián Leyzaola was named Thursday the director of public safety of the Mexican city that’s ground zero for drug trafficking violence, Ciudad Juárez, according to national and local press reports.
Leyzaola, who held a similar post in Tijuana for three years, was appointed to the job by Mayor Héctor Murguía. In his first public comments, Leyzaola asked the city’s residents not to lose hope and to work together, according to the newspaper El Diario, from Ciudad Juárez.
The city is considered Mexico’s most violent, with 456 murders recorded so far this year. Last year, the toll reached 3,230, most attributed to the drug cartels.
The appointment signals a change in the way authorities plan to fight crime on that stretch of the border, said in a phone interview Daniel Domínguez, who covers crime for El Diario.
“What we know about Leyzaola in Ciudad Juárez is what the media has reported, that he’s a man with a tough character who has battled drug traffickers,” he said, “but he’s also been accused of torture.”
According to Domínguez, Leyzaola will lead a force of more than 2,400 officers working in six districts, all the scene of bloodshed.
Leyzaola was police chief and director of public safety in Tijuana from 2008 to 2010. He directly confronted drug traffickers in the middle of a war between the locally based Arellano Félix cartel and the Sinaloa organization.
Their fight for control of the city left an official death toll of 2,325, among them 43 police officers, and 390 people disappeared, during those three years.
The lieutenant coronel also waged an unprecedented campaign against corruption within the ranks of his department. More than 600 agents suspected of being corrupt resigned or were dismissed, including 84 who were arrested and accused of working for organized crime.
Last year, while he was Tijuana’s director of public safety, the state office of human rights accused him of torture. The case remains open.
Shortly after he ended his term, he was named by Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna to be the state’s deputy secretary of public safety.
Leyzaola held that job for a little more than two months, resigning in February. He said at the time that he “needed to urgently” deal with matters away from his work and that required his personal attention.
The rumor immediately began circulating that he was going to work in Ciudad Juárez.
In response, Mayor Murguía said the public safety department would remain in the hands of Col. Laurencio Rodríguez, whom he had appointed when he assumed office in October.
According to the reporter for El Diario, the mayor delayed Leyzaola’s appointment because it had been leaked by the media.