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Amid drug war, Mexico fights wave of common crime
Violence » Assaults, robberies make life miserable for ordinary citizens.

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"They need franchises, youth gangs working for them," said Buscaglia. "You have an unemployed army of youth and franchises that are serving all these organized crime groups. That creates a huge tsunami of ordinary crime."

On March 5, 10 blocks from the manicured lawns of Morelia’s idyllic central square, two armed men held up a Bancomer bank branch, shooting a woman in the shoulder and getting away with 123,000 pesos in cash, about $13,600. Over the next seven months, Morelia was hit by an average of one bank robbery a month, including two on a single day in August. In 2006, Morelia had just five bank robberies all year.

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"The authorities are focused on something else, therefore the likelihood of anyone being detained goes down," said Alejandro Hope, a former high-ranking official in Mexico’s domestic intelligence agency. "This is the type of crime that affects the man on the street. Most of the fears and concerns of common people have to do with this."

Inspector Osvaldo Torres, a state police official whose jurisdiction includes Morelia, said he believes most street crime has no connection to the drug cartels.

"It’s more ordinary people who do this kind of thing," he said. "In fact, here organized crime doesn’t get involved in this sort of thing."

Torres said he has seen a drop in street crime over the last eight months, partly because officers are responding more quickly to crime now that their work shifts has been reduced from 24 to 12 hours and they are less tired on the job.

Federal statistics show the overall number of robberies outpaced population growth, rising more than 6 percent in the first eight months of this year, to 5,915 for a city with a population of more than 730,000 people.

Carlos Arrieta, a spokesman for state prosecutors, said he could not speak in detail about the causes of crimes that occurred before the current administration took office. But he attributed much of the rise to the increasing population of Morelia, which has expanded by roughly 100,000 people over the last decade.

"Morelia has grown exponentially," said Arrieta. "It’s like when you plant a lot of trees in an orchard, you’re going to have more avocados, rotten and ripe ones. It’s exactly the same."

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