VEA is Vallarta’s new neighborhood-based crime prevention program. Sort of a ‘Neighborhood Watch’ on steroids, providing instant reporting via Whatsapp, VEA is an acronym for Vecinos En Alerta – ‘Neighbors on the Lookout’ – and Amapas has been invited to participate.
Our first VEA meeting with the police, February 3, was hosted by ‘Taste’ Restaurant. Vallarta’s new Police Chief and his top officers introduced the program, complete with a PowerPoint presentation.
Our second neighborhood meeting, two weeks later, was hosted by Terrazas Del Mar to make it more convenient for our Los Pinos area members:
10 AM Wednesday, February 16, Terrazas del Mar
Amapas Neighborhood Association Full Member Building Terrazas del Mar hosted a presentation to two dozen interested neighbors by Chief of Police Jorge Valencia and District Attorney Francisco Sandoval, to further explain the new crime prevention partnership with Amapas focused on active participation by our neighborhood residents. The District Attorney explained that this program has been successfully implemented in 15 other Puerto Vallarta neighborhoods, resulting in reduced crime. Recently, for example, 16 people were rounded up in Emiliano Zapata, with the clear message that they were being watched.
Participation by neighborhood associations also includes joint identification of crime-prone locations (poorly lit or otherwise convenient places for criminal activity.) These crime prone locations, referred to as “red spots,” can then be attacked with improved lighting, increased patrols, surveillance cameras, or a combination, to improve public safety.
Both DA and Police Chief stated that protecting foreign residents and tourists has become a top priority for the city. They are hopeful that our colonia will accept a closer, more active collaboration with the police as a way to achieve the crime reduction already seen elsewhere in Vallarta.
During a Q&A period, Bill Williams, President of Terazzas Del Mar HOA, observed that the collaboration would provid an important step to improve public safety. Results will depend on the degree to which we all become involved with the program and support the authorities.
Louise Martin, from Paramont Bay, asked what the effect of posted bilingual signs such as ‘Neighborhood Watch Area, We Report Suspicious Activity,’ or ‘This area under video surveillance’ had on crime. The DA responded that petty criminals typically avoid those areas, but signs are no substitute for neighbors’ actions.
Gene Mendoza, ANA Board Member for Security, asked the DA to address reports in social media accusing police of ‘shaking down’ residents or visitors for bribes.
The DA reminded everyone that very often only one side of the story gets reported, and it is often the case that people stopped for petty offenses are the ones who offer, or at least agree to, a bribe. Chief Valencia stated that his policy is uncompromising: reported corruption automatically triggers placing the officer on administrative leave while an official investigation is opened and, if the charge of corruption is sustained, the officer is dismissed from the force immediately.
The results of these investigations will be reported back to us, so we can pass them along to local social media sites like Tricia Lyman’s Puerto Vallarta: Everything You Need Or Want To Know.
The District Attorney also announced that to improve the public’s confidence that they are interacting with authentic police officers, all officers are now required to display their official police ID cards on their uniform shirts. These ID’s are about the size of a credit card and include the officer’s picture. So while someone may be wearing a uniform, you should also expect to see their official ID to prove they are an authentic officer.
Amapas now has six Tourist Police (white Uniforms) regularly assigned to patrol our neighborhood (plus Conchas Chinas and part of Emiliano Zapata) in Police Truck #291, so we should expect to recognize them and get to know them personally. Two of the Amapas team – Gabby and Nicholas – were introduced.
The Municipal Police (blue uniforms) also patrol our neighborhood and coordinate with the Tourist Police to cover patterns of previously reported crime and identified “red spots.”
Juan Alverado asked a series of questions regarding police procedure and processing expectations following a crime. The process is divided into three parts and was outlined as, a) reporting crime, b) interacting with the ‘first responder’ police and c) interacting with subsequent ‘investigative’ police and following up on their procedures. Each of these process areas will be detailed in a later article.
The police will also look into the possibility of stationing a representative in the Tourism office to receive and follow up on crime reports from foreigners.
In summary, our municipal justice and public safety officials state that the protection of foreign visitors has been prioritized ahead of local citizens. However, the focus on improved crime prevention affecting visitors and expats will require the active collaboration and engagement of us all.
Please continue to report crime or suspicious activity by calling 911, or calling 089 if you wish to remain anonymous.
(This is the first of a series of ANA reports on Police/Security issues and VEA meetings and follow-ups.)