Authorities arrested 158 police officers in two northern Mexican towns over alleged links to drug traffickers on Friday, forcing the army and state police to fill the security void, prosecutors said.
The army, federal and state police rounded up 110 municipal officers in the town of Lerdo and another 48 in neighboring Gomez Palacio, including their two chiefs, Durango State Attorney General Sonia de la Garza Fragoso said.
The army and state police had to take over security in both towns since the remaining municipal officers will undergo training and background checks to ensure that “links with criminal groups are eradicated,” her office said in a statement.
The massive purge highlights the often cozy relationship between local police and drug cartels in Mexico, a country plagued by drug-related violence that has left more than 70,000 dead since 2006.
The powerful Sinaloa cartel controls drug trafficking in the state of Durango, which has endured a bout of violence in recent months.
The detained officers “are part of a structure within organized crime,” de la Garza told local radio, adding that some of the officers took part in kidnappings.
Authorities had already stripped the municipal officers of their weapons to investigate their possible use in crimes.
Some detained officers told investigators that a gang launched a wave of robberies in the towns last week in a ruse to make residents put pressure on authorities to return the guns to the municipal cops, de la Garza said.
Authorities had already fired 145 Gomez Palacio officers in November after they failed vetting tests.