MEXICO CITY, March 15 (UPI) -- Thefts on public transit in Mexico City reached a five-year high in January because of an insufficient number of police to combat organized crime, city officials said.
"The previous administration left the city in a very violent condition," Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said in February at an inaugural event for a new community center.
Theft constitutes most of the crime committed on the metro, as Mexico City's subway system is known, according to city authorities. Since December, police detained 221 people on the metro for robbery, but countless others escaped. Other crimes committed in the metro include fraud, stealing from shops and sexual abuse.
"You can be sure we are working on this issue. We aren't going to let impunity flourish in this city. But it won't be solved from one day to the next," the mayor said. Sheinbaum's six-year term began in December.
Robberies on the transit system are happening in a city that is experiencing a five-year high in homicides. Some slayings occur during violent robberies on public transit. On March 5, the media reported that assailants killed three people on buses in Iztapalapa, a working class neighborhood to the city's east.
In response to the rising crime, Mexico City's public safety ministry announced in February that it would put 800 more patrol officers on public transit. The additional police complement the 5,500 officers specifically deployed to Mexico City's subway system, one of the world's largest.
"We are convinced that the presence of officers inside buses and metro cars is a preventative strategy of deterrence," said Jesus Orga Martínez, Mexico City's head of public safety.
But some say the beefed up policing isn't improving security on their journeys.
Rebeca Peralta, a former city legislator and municipal politician, told newspaper Reforma there were 868 reported thefts on the public transportation system in January, a 205 percent increase over January 2018 when there were 284 robberies reported.
"These numbers are evidence of a huge problem. It's a problem that is far from being resolved and is instead intensifying. The strategies thus far implemented are not working," Peralta said.
Riders who have been robbed said police officers fail to respond to criminals who prey on passengers during peak hours and who work the metro in groups.
"On Saturday, I was robbed for the second time in two years. The first time they took my phone and now they stole my wallet," said Jorge Hernández, a lifelong resident of the capital who uses all forms of public transit including the metro.
"A person usually distracts or blocks when the subway cars are packed, and then somebody pushes you in one direction while from another they pick your pocket," Hernández said. "That's what's happened to me both times. They act together in groups and they are coordinated."
Mexico City's metro is one of the world's most densely packed, second only to New Delhi. The Mexican system's stated capacity is 4.5 million users per day, but exceeds that by one million, according to the metro's transit authority.
"The metro is truly wild, and it's clear to me organized criminals control its space. I've tried telling police I've been robbed but they do nothing," Hernández said.